Americas Kitchens

America's Kitchens

Nancy Carlisle, author of America’s Kitchens came and spoke at the store today. Along with her visit we had the Brooklyn Kitchen Tool Museum on display.

The book covers the history of kitchens in America from the 17th century through modern times, with a look at what the use of the kitchen is and its role in the house, rather than a look at cooking technology.

Nancy spoke about the aspects of both rural and urban kitchens in the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the most interesting things she mentioned was that urban kitchens tended to be in the basement, and were therefore dark, dingy, and somewhat unpleasant to work in. In the ever expanding need for space, we see this more and more in the restaurant kitchens of the modern city. While the urban cook (not chef) was toiling away in the basement, her country counterpart was likely to have windows and fields surrounding the kitchen, which tended to be at the back of the house. Not that it was idyllic in the country, just different. In the city where people have little storage space ingredients were generally purchased on a day to day basis as needed, but in the country the garden was usually behind the kitchen allowing for the fresh picking of needed vegetables while in season, or access to the root cellar, or pantry for canned and preserved goods. All of this of course was before the advent of refrigeration but there are similarities to the habits we see today in urban and rural kitchens. Preserving was also far more prevalent in rural areas, as they had the room to hang food to dry, or store jars of preserves, sauces, and vegetables.

We continue to have little space for storage in the city and I would guess shop far more often, buying less each time, rather than the big weekly trip to the supermarket to stock up.

There was some discussion among the folks who attended about the idea of communal ovens like those that existed (and may still on a very small scale) in Europe, or those in Morocco where each family has a unique design on their tagine, so that they can identify it after it has been baking all day in the village oven.

I wonder if this sort of thing would work in America, where in the city we are lucky enough to have bakeries where fresh, excellent bread is available everyday, but what about in the rest of the country? Would people drop off dough to be baked in a town oven rather than buy bread at the Wal-mart? or the Kroger? or the Shop-Rite?

We discussed the future of kitchens. Not the future of the 1950’s but where Nancy and the assembled group thought kitchens are really headed. Nancy mentioned some fascinating prospects like a group at MIT that is working on devices like a counter-top that is also a scale, or a fridge that can track your food habits and help generate a shopping list when you start to get low on staples.

The seminal product for Media Lab’s kitchen developers, known wryly as the Counter Intelligence Group, is Minerva, an interactive countertop camera/scale/computer device that will talk the chef through any of thousands of recipes. No more of Grandma’s dog-eared three-by-five cards to cull through on Thanksgiving morning, Minerva will hold your hand instead.

The prototype unit has a camera that hangs above the kitchen counter to read the radio frequency identification, or RFID, bar-code tag on top of each ingredient container, which interacts with a scale built into the counter to prompt the chef through the steps of a particular recipe.

Ted Selker, an MIT associate professor and director of the Counter Intelligence Group, said Minerva is just the start of kitchen-products efforts, which began in 1998. He says the kitchen is ripe for artificial-intelligence technology and has always been a hotbed of innovation.”

“MIT Counter Intelligence Group”; Frank Byrt, Dow Jones Newswires, November 20, 2002

This was 6 years ago, imagine what the minds at MIT have going now! Check out the Counter Intelligence Site!

The Tool Museum will be on display through Monday afternoon, so stop in and have a look.

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