Every summer my aunt, who lived on a farm, cooked in the outdoor kitchen rather than in the indoor kitchen. The more generic name for such a kitchen is a “summer kitchen,” but my aunt always called it the outdoor kitchen. The farmhouse, built around 1850, wasn’t air conditioned, and on a very hot day cooking in the kitchen was not only intolerable, it also made the rest of the house even hotter.
The old-fashioned farmhouse outdoor kitchen was not like today’s outdoor kitchens, which are literally outdoors, on a patio or other open area around the house. The farmhouse summer kitchen was usually a one-room roofed and enclosed structure (containing a kitchen and nothing else). You had to go outdoors to enter it. That is, you had to walk out of the main house to get to the other little house that was the outdoor kitchen — which is probably why my aunt called it an outdoor kitchen.
Luckily the people who built the original farmhouse on my aunt and uncle’s farm also built an outdoor kitchen very nearby. This kitchen consisted of a stone floor, stone walls, and wide eaves that kept out the sun. I don’t remember what the roof was made of, but I do remember that the outdoor kitchen always felt cool. Even on a hot day.
I wrote this poem in memory of that kitchen.
Before the cool hum of air conditioners
Before the glut of quarter-acre plots
When blazing days heightened kitchen heat
When everyone craved a cooling rainstorm
Women found relief in outdoor kitchens
When sizzling bacon and crackling cornbread
Roasting chicken and baking biscuits
Boiling potatoes, wilting greens, and steaming corn
Would have produced indoor saunas
Women cooked in outdoor kitchens
Thick stone walls defied noonday heat
Wide eaves foiled each invading ray
Stone floors remained divinely cool
Air breezed through uncramped space
Distress simmered down in outdoor kitchens
Though abandoned they have not disappeared
Like faithful friends who will not leave
Many linger close to the main house
Look for one when you pass a farm
Symbol of different ways, the outdoor kitchen
After the techno-hum of a long hot day
After a multitude of hydra-headed tasks
When pressures magnify indoor heat
When everyone hungers for relief
Consider the solace of the outdoor kitchen
Barbara Gregorich’s poems are available in Crossing the Skyway: Poems.