Kitchens today gleam with happy pride and show off all their bling with satisfaction. They are wonderful places for a foodie such as I. Although I do not, in fact, own one of the winners, but compared to the kitchens here just after the second world war mine isn’t so bad.
Mum produced her fantastic meals on the most basic of ovens, the Christmas Turkey- which never fitted in - was cooked all night first one half of it and then turned around the second half - one part always sticking out of the door. Thinking about it we all should have gone down with food poisoning or something we never did.
If one looks at the graphs of the incidents of food poisoning one finds my childhood was a relatively safe place considering the lack of refrigeration and the reliance of the meat safe. The increase becomes rapidly higher as the decades pass until it is at it’s terrible high. As we grew cleaner, more concerned with germs, became the victims of health and safety rules, ignored good husbandry in return for a profit, the chances of suffering from food poisoning increases. There is whole new blog in that thought:)
A large square table stood in for kitchen tops, food was prepared on it, yeast left to rise on it and, with the aid of a cloth, clothes were ironed on it. In between while us children built dens and secret caves under it and sat or jumped off it. One sink, one draining board and a manual washing machine complete with mangle, that was it. A large floor to ceiling cupboard for other provisions. Nothing matched, there was no all over theme.
Outside there was a meat safe.
The kitchen served it’s purpose and Mum was pleased with it. Modern by those days standards. As the bling came along Mum collected it. Automatic washing machine, fridge, freezer and microwave it took years but she kept up. The second kitchen I was aware of was the school kitchens, I only viewed them through the hatch as I collected the mass produced, kept warm far too long, food. Years later I was to work on the other side of the hatch, peeling hundreds of potatoes, opening catering size tomatoes, scrubbing tables and washing up in one sinkful of hot water ugh!
Another time I had a part time evening job for a few weeks as a washer upper in a very dubious kitchen in London - I wouldn’t have dared to eat there. The floor was so greasy extreme care was needed in moving around especially carrying heavy piles of china. The filthy language and sexist comments an eye opener but I have always been good at switching off and diving into my imagination. The washing up was back breaking although this time I was allowed two or Another three sink fulls of hot water. The extra money was useful but I didn’t pine too much when my few weeks was up.
When I began my travels I never realised there could be worse kitchens in the world.
In many countries back in the 70s, especially when travelling away from large towns or cities,, one was eating at wayside cafe type eating places. There would be a problem with language in interpreting what was on offer that night. With smiles of welcome we would be invited and ushered into the kitchen to inspect each dish and choose.
Um, yes, well!
First rule we learnt was smile.
Do not look at the floor and never let eye alight on preparation surfaces.
Concentrate on the bubbling, boiling pans.
It was useless trying to find out what meat was being cooked.
Take your chance on the seasoning.
Choose and beat hasty retreat.
99.9999% of the time the food was delicious and we suffered no harm. We had bad cafes and restaurants back home I would remind myself, this was after all before Health and Safety had it’s iron hold on our lives.
I have had many trips on fishing boats up and down various coasts, where all meals for crew and up to twenty guests was prepared, cooked and plated p from the tiniest of kitchens, small galleys. So small, the cook is standing outside, dancing with flames and pans, as he expertly grilled fish or cubes of goat/mutton.
Many of my travels involved long periods of camping where we spent a lot of time in local market places buying fruit and veg and then opening tins of luncheon meat or corned beef - neither of the last two particularly appealed to me. Cooking on bottled gas primus stoves.
Three incidents remain in my mind with our kitchens of primus stoves.
1) The best fish and chips I have ever tasted was produced (for eight) on a two ring stove, in the velvet darkness of a desert night in Turkey. We had searched the markets for potatoes and fish we could recognise. We managed with a lot of laughter and help from the intrigued market stall holder. Even to the extent they cooked samples for us. Cooked on the stove by the son of a prize winning fish and chip shop owner from Blackheath. Consumed with the foreign night time sounds of the countryside.
This dish was followed up a few hours later as we slumbered in out tents by the rude and noisy interruption of armed soldiers rounding us up and herding us somewhere else because we had elected to camp in bandit country.
2)Stumbling from my sleeping bag in the darkness of early morning, in the Iranian desert, and forgetting to don my gloves so losing a piece of skin from my hand as I touched the frozen metal of that stove. ’Tis freezing in the desert!
3) Also in Turkey a few hundred miles further south we perched on a cliff top with beautiful views of the ocean. There was a slight breeze the day I was due to prepare the lunch so I bent over to light the gas . Unknown to us we had a leak and the air around was filled with gas which went up in a sheet of flame at my face.
A) I had a good covering of sun oil on my face
B) my reactions were fast
C) being outside it wasn't a lethal build up of gas
All these factors meant all the damage done was the loss of fringe,eyebrows and eyelashes. Scorched hands (thrown up to save my face - that didn’t work did it?) which needed bandaging for a week or so. The flame had instantly burnt the oil off but, apart from leaving me looking like I had been in the sun too long, had not burnt my face.
I was lucky.
It took a while for lashes to grow back and I discovered the use of them, they had kept dust out of my eyes. I lived in sunglasses 24/7 for weeks. I had to have help washing as my hands were bandaged but all in all
I was lucky.
With all the suspect kitchens I had eaten in the most damage was done with our own little camping kitchens:)
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