When you move into a new home, regardless of whether you own or rent, the kitchen is often the first space you settle in. You cross your fingers that the fridge will fit, and stacking your Tupperware collection becomes a feat of engineering. But perhaps your foremost concern is whether you have enough space to prepare the meals that will nourish and nurture your family. When we moved into a 100-year-old farmhouse on a fourth-generation cattle and sheep property outside Canberra, we discovered just how vital creating that space would be.
Years of being a rental had robbed the house of its shine, but the remnants of its former glory were still there. You could imagine the homely warmth of back to back open fireplaces gracing the lounge and dining rooms and emanating from the wood stove oven that would have sat happily in its creamy tiled recess in the kitchen. Fortunately, the stained-glass doors and windows remain that captured and radiated the warm glow of the setting sun. But old homes often come with old kitchens.
Our kitchen was one of those. While not the original farmhouse kitchen, it was circa 1940s, resplendent in its cream and apricot cupboards, a single short bench that fits only the everyday appliances side by side, and overhead cabinets too narrow to fit a dinner plate. The only upgrades since then, and probably during the ’80s, being the vinyl flooring, twin fluorescent bare batten lights, and two power points. And yes, there was also a white, freestanding, electric coiled Westinghouse oven found in rental properties, infuriating their occupants all over the country. We outlaid a small fortune on freestanding cabinets to store all the kitchen paraphernalia that one generally collects over a lifetime. And then there was the preparation area to consider, or evidently, lack thereof.
Having felt like we had exhausted the budget to the point of nausea to outfit an old house for a modern family, I stopped short of spending more on a workbench. I vowed to wait for the universe to deliver something suitable, and importantly, free. It would turn out I would have to wait two years for that to happen. During that time, to survive without the necessary bench space required a level of structure and routine that does not come naturally to me. With no dishwasher and a family of 7 to feed, demanded a choreographed effort of washing and drying dishes, in between preparing meals, to make use of every square inch of space that sink drainer had to offer. The kettle had to shift each time my pride and joy, a majestic yellow bowl-lift KitchenAid (sadly no longer with us), was called into action. As it whipped sponges and pavlovas and mechanically ploughed yeasted doughs till they yielded like plump pillows, it would wobble dangerously close to the edge of the bench, me standing sentry to guide it back to safe ground. I winced at the thought of adding anything extra to my already cluttered routine for fear of having to move to the kitchen floor. The universe saw all and took pity.
We discovered a wooden table in the properties’ old shearer’s quarters, destined for demolition. It sat neglected and forgotten, labouring under the weight of boxes containing detritus of a fourth-generation farm. It’s many years of previous service evident in the layers of paint – patina green, sky blue, and finally cream, the top left raw, a giant crack running from end to end where the flour and spills fell through to the bulk bins below. I often wondered how previous beneficiaries of the table used it. What kind of conversations happened as they kneaded dough, prepared vegetables and eggs brought in fresh from the garden, and baked cakes to celebrate any occasion.
We have since moved into a brand new home, which ironically also has a small kitchen, but I am so grateful for the blessing that table brought into our lives. Occasionally it sat almost spartan in its inactivity. But mostly, it juggled numerous acts, all vying for space, but all conveniently within reach and view. It was handy for all those kitchen projects that need a permanent home or regular attention – sourdough culture, doughs rising, kombucha brewing, grains and pulses soaking, and vegetables and fruits prepared for pickles and chutneys and jams. And it blessed us with a space where conversations could happen while we kneaded dough, prepared vegetables collected fresh from the garden, and made cakes to celebrate any occasion. This daily ritual of preparing the foods that nourish and nurture us provided a tangible connection to this table’s past, to the people who used it, and to the love of home and family this table helped to create.