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From the colonial period to the present, the kitchen has been a source of sustenance, warmth, and comfort. Of all the rooms in the New England house, the kitchen by far has experienced the most change in its continued evolution. New England’s 17th and 18th-century kitchens provided complex, active workspaces around a central hearth where families – primarily women, servants, or the enslaved – performed household chores such as preserving food, preparing meals, cleaning dishes, washing clothes, sewing and mending, and tending children. As cookstove technology advanced in the early 19th century, these appliances expanded the repertoire of the cook to allow baking, boiling, roasting, and other cooking techniques to occur simultaneously and with more efficiency. Separate kitchens were often built just to accommodate the radically different stoves and ranges. The early 20th century brought more improvements in efficiency, such as the introduction of the Hoosier cabinet and the Frederick kitchen. As we know it today, the kitchen represents the central “hub” of household activities, serving the combined function of multiple rooms—the dining room, living room, study, and kitchen—in one open and coordinated space.
This one-day forum at Historic Deerfield brings together a diverse group of historians, researchers, and curators who will focus on the material culture and functions of the historic New England kitchen and its workspaces, including issues of domestic life and labor, class and wealth, space and room use, gender, technology, and the quest for greater efficiency. Nancy Carlisle’s lecture provides an overview of the technological and social changes that have taken place in this room and suggests how these innovations have transformed kitchen work and changed women’s lives. Architectural historian Eric Gradoia examines the transition from fireplace cooking to cookstoves, charting these remarkable appliances through changing fuels, construction, and design. Just in time before the planting season, Research Historian and Garden History Consultant Christie Higginbottom shares with us the rich history and role of kitchen gardens in New England in the 1800s. Her lecture discusses both typical and more progressive garden styles and cultural practices, vegetable and herb varieties, and preservation techniques.
The afternoon will include a demonstration of historic cookery equipment and its use on the hearth, hanging from the crane, and in the bake oven, a guided tour of historic kitchens in two of Deerfield’s houses, and an informal, hands-on workshop of cooking tools and storage containers with Curatorial Department Director and Curator of Historic Interiors, Amanda Lange. The day ends with refreshments at Hall Tavern and an optional tour of Historic Deerfield’s newly opened Barnard Tavern, which operated from 1795 to 1806.