Heart of a smallholding
Debbie Kingsley considers the importance of the Smallholder Kitchen
Is there any property telly programme that doesn’t chirp on about the kitchen being the heart of the home? It’s a domestic if accurate cliché, and if it’s true for your average suburban three-bed semi, it’s doubly true of the smallholder kitchen.
The smallholder’s kitchen is normally the physical link between the outdoor smallholding action, and the calmer, possibly neater, inner sanctum areas for rest and relaxation. Whether you have a boot room, utility or dog room as the ultimate step to the outside world or not, the kitchen is the last semi-acceptable boundary for the wearing of wellies. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a hurry, best intentions of ‘no muddy gear in the kitchen’ go entirely by the wayside. It’s why the kitchen floor needs to be swept with an old-fashioned broom before it’s fit for hoovering, and why we own a mop and bucket that actually gets used.
A kitchen is as essential to smallholding life as a wheelbarrow or a muck fork, and it’s far from being a one job room. Its main purpose may be for cooking and eating, but the smallholder has all kinds of projects and routines that make the kitchen multipurpose beyond the norm. If you’re lucky enough to have a range, the cool bottom oven might be resurrecting a new born lamb from hypothermia. You’ll be pickling and preserving jams and chutneys, ketchups and relishes; curing and sausage-making; blanching and bagging, whether it’s from foraged or home grown produce. And these activities require kit, from preserving pans to thermometers and lots and lots of jars, bottles, funnels, sieves, labels and lids, so storage becomes a major issue. You can’t exactly keep food related items hygienically alongside livestock kit, so a smallholder needs more cupboards, shelves and storage containers than the average householder. It’s why sculleries, pantries, larders, freezer space and generous utility rooms are so much in demand. I don’t think we’ve run a training course when at least one budding smallholder hasn’t ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over our ancient cobblestone floored scullery, and I have to say, the storage space keeps me sane, and the dogs out of cooling leftovers. Old nails smacked into beams generations ago carry colanders and pans, and bottles of cider are kept chilled on old paving slabs, ready to add to stews or serve to a tired shearer. Less romantically, large plastic storage boxes hold sacks of flour, and enough dried goods to see us through any baking frenzy. It’s this room that keeps the kitchen usable for its other tasks, or we wouldn’t be able to move in it. The kitchen table is where I fill in livestock medicine records, plan which cows will go in which shed for the winter, watch the house ducks through the kitchen window, plan and prepare the menus for our courses, and decant cider vinegar from the barrel inhabited by the octopus-like vinegar mother. In winter it’s where wet boots, jackets, hats and gloves steam by the range, and year-round it’s where large hairy dogs sprawl, Mabel under the table, Mack in his bed by the oven.
The smallholder’s kitchen is where we care for livestock, mooch with pets, dry our clothes, prepare, eat and drink our produce, work, socialise, plan and dream. And it’s the warmest room in the house.
TOP: A kitchen get-together RIGHT: Rainbow chard LEFT: Ducks in the kitchen
Sweet chilli jam