When I was a child I liked to mooch through the drawers and cabinets of our fitted kitchen finding all manner of forgotten things. Spilled out at the back of a drawer were some of those edible ball bearings you put on top of cakes. They were a poor substitute for sweets, but I ate a couple all the same. In a cupboard, ancient tins of strange foods no one could face eating, frankfurters, gherkins, pease pudding, now further corrupted from the coroding tins. In another cupboard, a pile of unused cake tins where a colony of silverfish had formed seemingly existing upon dust. In fact, most of the stuff stored in those units was not needed, wanted or remembered.
Visiting my mother-in-law in Manhattan, the battle waged against cockroaches was keen. They nipped out of every crack and crevice of her kitchen units. For each one you saw there was probably another ten, like errors in a writer's manuscript. The modern fitted kitchen that originated in 1940s America was supposed to help eliminate hidden dusty crevices for grease and critters.
The kitchen of my Cumbrian grandmother was simple: an ancient and fierce stove, constantly simmering in the corner, a large sink, a couple of long surfaces with pans, pie tins and plates below. All the food was stored in the pantry, a small L-shaped room with a marble worktop, perfect for rolling pastry, and shelves with jars of things she'd pickled, jams and dozens of labelled canisters from candied peel to flaked almonds. I think she must have had a fridge but I cannot remember it. The pantry would have been cold enough in that house.
Here in Andalusia in the south of Spain, we have a small but adequate space designated as the kitchen. I like a smaller kitchen which avoids a long walk for a cheese grater. We decided against the typical flat-packed kitchen units. The kitchen that was there was removed soon after our arrival. It was made of damp, rotting chipboard with a precariously balanced marble top. We had our builders salvage this and trim it to shape to sit on metal shelves.
The tiles with the dainty floral design had to go. With the project going over-budget almost immediately, the first place we visited in the tile shop was the sale section and saw just the kind of thing we wanted: mismatched, bold and colourful.
In the oldest parts of the house, we had the builders tear down the suspended ceilings to reveal the much nicer pitched ceilings made of wood beams and ‘toscos’, the old handmade clay bricks that are in some of the most ancient buildings in Spain.
We are fortunate to have a paw print on one of these toscos, probably from when they were drying in the sun before they were baked in the kiln. This is an old house so the paw print belonged to a dog who lived over a hundred years ago. We have something small to commemorate its life as it walked amongst the damp clay bricks on that hot Spanish day.
Auriel Roe is an author and artist who spent the earlier part of her career teaching literature, drama and art in secondary schools in England and abroad. One of her short stories was shortlisted for a major UK writing competition. Her debut novel Blindefellows was #1 for humour in Amazon US, Canada and UK. Her new humorous memoir focusing on a difficult adolescence, a slew of unsuitable suitors and a total ineptness at any kind of gainful employment, A Young Lady's Miscellany, is is now available.
Trivia: Auriel Roe is the fourth cousin of Margaret Atwood and direct descendant of Pendle "witch" Alice Nutter.