It wouldn’t be a voyage as such, as my kitchen isn’t very large, but it is filled with all kinds of things.
Like its owner, it would have liked to be more organised, and a little more polished and shiny, but it’s fighting a losing battle due to its physical constraints, so it has settled quite happily into being a place which can make people warm and contented.
This is most definitely not a clinical, efficient or pretty place. The walls all need sanding back and tiling, the ceiling needs painting, the floor is just the old Council concrete one, the cupboards are now misaligned (they completely fell off the internal wall which had collapsed) and there are things on all the work surfaces. It’s not terribly attractive, but it works and it has a huge window so there’s plenty of light.
I have two sets of tall wooden open shelves, and lots of things have been packed into them, sometimes almost tessellated so they will all fit, and hung off the sides, too. My spice and condiment cupboard is double stacked through necessity.
It started off tidy, it really did – most of the spices are in airtight, square boxes, and even labelled – but you know how it goes when you have more things than space, and are a person who cannot pass spices by. If you are also a person for whom spices are bought, well, then you probably very much understand what goes on in that spice cupboard.
Looking around it today, properly looking, I find that I really have managed to fit quite a lot in here, and almost all of it has personal memories attached.
The basic terracotta water jug that my father brought me back from Cyprus is tucked away so that I can see it, but it can’t get broken by a careless hand. That, a few knives, my unruly hair, dark eyes and hot as a flash temper are all that I have from him. The rest of me – the love of and skill at cooking, the kindness to a fault, the overly empathic soul teamed with a Mama Bear mentality if riled, the gap in the teeth and the tendency to give my own things away if I think someone else needs them more come from my Mum, as do many things in my kitchen.
A beautiful cup and saucer, made for Turkish coffee, sent to me by mum via someone coming back to London.
An extremely heavy but very lovely coffee grinder loiters around by the cast iron pans. Also a present from Mum.
The pans and the grinder are hidden underneath the first set of open shelves, which are on the worksurface above the fridge and freezer. This is where the baking trays live, albeit not always terribly harmoniously.
Given to me by a friend who was going to get rid of them until I piped up “Cast iron pans? Me please!” and so they were adopted into the family. They snuggle in next to the water jug, and protect it with their tanned wooden handles.
They were four, but two of them were the same size, and so when my friend Marcus gasped when he caught sight of them, well…yes, you know what happened. The twins were separated and one of them was taken back up North. The remaining three are still looking as good as the day they were made. They’re usually asking to have barbecue beans cooked in them, or a milk pudding, possibly some porridge with muscovado sugar and spices. Solid, dependable, dark and heavy.
There is a clear glass jar of vanilla tea under there too, that Mum sends me when she can, and a stash of quite possibly the best Turkish cold medication I have come across. (Not one to take if you need to be awake though.)
Cypriots love to have things with Cyprus written on them. I am no exception to that rule, despite being a halfie. These are some inhabitants of the open shelves. Yes, those are shot glasses, even though I do not drink, but Cyprus, see? And a tiny island house. And a tiny drawer! (It’s a nutmeg grater.)
Underneath those shelves I have a large round cast iron skillet, and a smaller round cast iron frying pan. The skillet came with the pans, and the small frying pan belonged to Mum. They fit so snugly together, that I don’t feel bad they have to languish in the space between the top of the fridge and the worktop that the open shelves stand on. The square, ridged pan though…that sits apart, in the space on the other side of the fridge top, while the other two spoon and ignore it. It doesn’t seem to mind, as it graces me with perfect steak every time I use it.
The big skillet is for cornbread, or hash, and the smaller frying pan, with its glossy sheen, is for roast potatoes, for toasting spices or roasting garlic.
Further round, tucked into a corner by the microwave, sat on top of a fake Le Creuset, and an actual Le Creuset gift (thank you James) , there are two more very old pans. Made by Prestige, and presented to me at a Friends’ Christmas Dinner by my best friend, and my husband, over 20 years ago. The wooden handles have worn, so they only get used occasionally as I worry someone else will burn themselves if the handles go, but I cannot bring myself to get rid of them. I just can’t. I cried when I got them because they were something I had been wanting for a long time, and they mean a lot to me. There was a third, a milk pan, but that went off to a friend’s house to be fixed, and we’ve never managed to get around to collecting it. I suspect it may be lost.
My main saucepans were a leaving present from a previous job that I was very sad to say goodbye to. A Raymond Blanc set with thick copper sandwiched bases that nobody else has managed to ruin yet. Heavy, dishwasher safe and still shiny and reliable, but annoyingly discontinued now. They nest inside each other on the other set of shelves, each one snug with a purple pan protector inside, their metal voices muted. I can even bake things in these, properly burnt on in that way that only cheese can, and still they clean up every time, usually just with hot water and a bit of washing up liquid.
There is another set, too. You didn’t think I was a one pan set woman, did you?
A dark grey Circulon set, another much loved present. They too are treated to the purple pan protectors, even though they have the temerity to not be dishwasher safe, so they are only used by me, washed very carefully, dried, and put back on the shelf.
The cupboard above the microwave is the double stacked spice cupboard. The next one along holds crockery and glassware. It used to hold more, but then it pitched itself forward off the wall and we lost 70% of the things that had been contained within it.
The noise of that amount of china and glass hitting a concrete floor is ear-splitting and seemingly endless. We filled a 60 litre bin with the shards, and my gorgeous copper wok that was on top was dented beyond repair.
Luckily the dinner plates were all in the dishwasher. I loved these plates so much when I saw them that I bought two complete sets from the much missed Woolworths. That’s nearly 16 years ago now. They are a decent weight, with a good dip in them to hold the food. People like plates.
All the dinner plates, and all the soup bowls remain. Only three dessert bowls though, one side plate, two of the tea and coffee canisters, and none of the cups.
My cabbage leaf plate survived the fall, by sheer force of will, I’d like to believe. It was my Nan’s and her will was iron.
Another thing to survive, which I really did not expect, is an old glass dish. This was used by our previous cat, who couldn’t drink from a dish on the floor, but could happily drink from this as it was raised. It has been thoroughly disinfected, and bleached, and washed many times, never fear. Another thing that I can’t get rid of.
Underneath that cupboard is a present from Tex. It’s a knife block that never fails to make people smile. It always makes me smile too. (Told you the walls needed tiling.) Those test tubes are actually full of flavoured salts from Tenerife that Tex brought back for me, and that’s a jar of Turkish comb honey in the front.
One thing that is never, ever missing from my kitchen is olive oil. Nothing will make me give it up. That bottle (thanks Mum!) and its pourer does at least stop me from flooding absolutely everything and wasting the greengold elixir.
Just along from the olive oil is another set of open shelves, and that’s where the saucepans, large casserole pots and tupperware lives. The staff of life that is tea and coffee live below them, on the bottom shelf.
Every time I use this French Press, I think of my old bosses, the architects. Making coffee with them was a morning ritual. The milk had to be warmed in the microwave until it was hot, but not so hot that it got a skin, and the coffee had to be very, very strong. After a while they trusted me to make it for them. Each time I make coffee, I smile and think of them. One of them has Alzheimer’s now, and so coffee making has become bittersweet. A lot of the time I use my Moka, and pretend I’m Italian for 10 minutes, but the French Press is the one with the memories.
We’ve run out of kitchen at this point, and there’s nothing terribly memorable about a boiler, though it does have my food processor under it. That was a present from Tex when the bowl on my old one shattered. It was nearly 30 years old, so I can forgive it. The annoying thing? Once we’d disposed of it, I found a spare bowl on Ebay. [sigh] Next time, I check!
The wall with the back door in it isn’t really useable space. The back door does open, but it’s a real pain to close again, so we tend not to use it. I’ve hung fairy lights around it instead.
There is one nice thing on this wall though, and it’s a pretty good mantra.