01 January 2007

Grandma Annie's Back Kitchen

Setting my cranberry upside-down cake on the cupboard in the “back room” to cool the other day, I was reminded of Grandma Annie’s back room.

It had been a kitchen once, in one of the mid-19th century structure’s many incarnations. But when I was a child, it was used mostly for storage.

When I was a child, it contained a massive red cupboard, filled with kitchen items Annie used only once or twice a year. Old bean crocks sat cheek by jowl with glass jars of beans or rice. An old tin colander, ancient wooden spoons, a bowl of cookie cutters and other kitchen miscellany filled the shelves.

The back room also held an enamel-topped table piled with boxes of canning jars and bins of apples or baskets of potatoes.

Annie used this room as a second pantry, a sort of keeping room. She dried herbs in that room, something that intrigued me when I was a child, and because it was unheated in winter and cool in summer, she also set baked goods there when they needed to cool.

The room was connected to the kitchen by a hallway, and the hallway ran along the side of the house. It was part of the house, and yet not part of the house.

The keeping room led directly to Annie’s vast backyard. In summer, she’d open the back door and the hall door and the cross-ventilation kept her old house cool on the hottest July days.

Usually by August, the old treadle sewing machine Annie kept in the room would be pressed into service, as she altered our clothing for the school year or sewed aprons and tablecloths from brightly-colored cotton.

My own back room serves a similar purpose. Here is a collection of mismatched cupboards and bins and shelves that hold gardening supplies, bird feed, canned goods and cookbooks.

It was once part of the kitchen, but the people who “remodeled” our 1896-home in the 1970s, split the room into two.

I spend more time in my back room than Annie did in hers. It’s a cozy place, with a patterned rug and a comfortable chair. In summer, when the crickets sing, it is my favorite room in the house.

11 comments:

Tanna said...

That is beautiful! What an amazing room to make part of you kitchen and your home. You have a wonderful back kitchen!! Somehow it feels a little like the magic of a secret room.

Mimi said...

Tanna, you've hit it just right. It always felt that way to me. Somehow, the drying herbs were magical to me and even though I did not know why at the time (I was about 7 years old when I first noticed them).

The cabinet was old and towering and had been built by Pepére, Annie's father.

Kristen said...

My grandparents had a backroom in their farm house as well... it was such a treat for my sister and I to sneak back there and explore.

I love your writing style Mimi! I feel like I'm right where you are describing as I read.

Mimi said...

Thanks, Kristen! What a nice thing to hear! I am happy to be able to share.

I loved those backrooms. . .

Anonymous said...

You have just evoked such wonderful memories of my grandparent's home. The special places & aromas. Grandma was a professional baker & loved to do so for her family. Thank you.

Mimi said...

What were those aromas, Fran? Cinnamon and vanilla and butter and talc — that's what grandmother's smell like, at least when we were kids.

The old back room had an old smell, too, sort of old apples and ancient wood. . .

Thanks, Fran!

Jann said...

I am so impressed you can recall all of this-you must have spent a lot of time with your grandparents. You should take a picture and share with us what this loks like-

Terri said...

You brought back wonderful memories for me. My French grandmother in NH had just such a room and I loved it. It always had a special ambiance about it.

Mimi said...

Jann, I am not sure if there are any photos of the old back room. But one of these days I will dig up some others and scan them. I have a very vivid memory, in fact, it may even be photographic. I have no other memory to compare it to!

Terri, that is amazing — I wonderf if all old houses had them, or is it a French Canadian thing? Yes, it was like stepping back into the past, wasn't it.

Funny thing, I have dreanms of hidden rooms. That means something — forgot what — and that room is often part of them. It was never part of the house's day to day life.

Anonymous said...

Mimi, how strange. My mom and I were just discussing the back kitchen my great-grandmother used exactly as your grandmother. It had zinc counters and I remember the smell of apples and cherries as well as the "funny" taste of water from the faucet. Your post put me right back there. Just for the record, her farmhouse was in Coldwater, MI., not quite French Canada ;-)

Mimi said...

BC, my grandmother's kitchen was in Michigan, too, but consideraly northeast of Coldwater.

Apples and cherries, hmm? That would be a Michigan kitchen, all right.