I grew up in five different houses… the first my Dad started after my parents married using his army severance pay. The house was modest and very much a house of it’s time, it remained a work in progress until Dad decided to enter ministry.
Dad’s decision would take us to a series of large century homes which served as church manses/rectories. These houses had formal livingrooms, formal diningrooms, inside parlours; large kitchens, bathrooms, and 4 or bedrooms. Most also had remnants of a ‘summer kitchen’.
Today’s trend of ‘summer kitchens1‘ is not a new one…although the 19th century version was a bit different than the high end outdoor living, barbecue, wood fired ovens, cook tops and swim up bars of today.
When Jane McRae Bean Gerrish and her new husband James Gerrish were building their home in 1915, they decided to include a summer kitchen. Jane and her first husband James Bean were merchants in the village of Blackville, NB, Jane continued the business after his death and after her remarriage two years later.
The Gerrish home included a winter kitchen and the property boasted a separate structure to house the kitchen in summer. Jane is well known for her business acumen, it is likely the addition of a summer kitchen reflected a business opportunity. A business investment without inconveniencing her family.
Summer kitchens which developed in northern areas of the United States in the 1850’s did so largely as a result of technology. In particular, cast iron cook stoves replaced inefficient fireplaces as the heat source for cooking. Where previously the issue was the amount and cost of fuel, the issue quickly became too much heat. In summer houses which were poorly or not insulated at all, were hot, particularly in second floor bedrooms. Additional heat from cast iron wood fired or coal fired stoves was unwelcome in summer months, but a benefit in winter. The solution for anyone who could afford it was a ‘summer kitchen’.
Mary Ann Morrison Campbell and her husband Alexander were grocery merchants on Lingan Road, Whitney Pier2, Cape Breton. Their home and business was located on the residential street, walking distance from the steel plant, coke ovens, and the extensive infrastructure of a busy port and steel making center. Did their house and business have a dedicated ‘summer kitchen’? In all likelihood Mary Ann and Alex made some accommodation for the heat from cooking during summer months, A semi-detached ‘outbuilding’ which could act as a kitchen location were common among those with sufficient land.
Kitchens of the day were not like those we know… Kitchen equipment was mobile, the stove could be taken apart and moved. Tables, sideboards and equipment free standing and movable to a temporary summer structure.
Rural communities and small villages afforded plenty of opportunity for a summer kitchen to be used. Garden and orchard produce, wild harvest all required processing, pickling, canning, curing, or to be made in to jellies, jams, ciders, cordials, etc. Kitchens were places of industry, where women prepared products to consume, sell or trade.
For Jane this meant drawing on her Scottish heritage to turn her husband’s farm produce in to products from her summer kitchen for sale to her store customers. Blackville, NB was a mill town in the midst of a boom, bringing men from surrounding communities to work and providing a ready client base of men looking for conveniently prepared food.
It is also likely Mary Ann would have prepared and sold products familiar to her and her Scottish neighbours but she would have also included a mix of food from cultures represented in her community of Lingan road3. Blood pudding, and haggis would share the stage with polish sausage, keilbasa and other foods made by neighbourhood women. Mary Ann might well have purchased polish sausage, and pickled it herself for sale to the steel workers flooding the town.
In early summer, the focus of work would be the harvest of wild strawberries and raspberries for preserving in jams and jellies. Jams and jellies which would be enjoyed with that most common kitchen product, winter and summer… bread.
The My Mother’s Cookbooks whole wheat bread (60%)
2 pkgs dry active yeast
2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup lukewarm water
3/4 cup milk
1 cup water
1/3 cup butter or margarine (shortening)
4 Tbsp molasses
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups sifted all – purpose flour
1) Preheat over to 400 degrees F;
2) In a small bowl mix yeast, lukewarm water and sugar together, placing it in a warm place to prove;
3) Place scaled milk, water, butter, molasses and salt together in a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature;
4) Add yeast mixture to milk mixture;
5) Work in flour until it mix comes together and can be turned out on a floured surface for kneading;
6) Knead until the dough is smooth;
7) Place in a clean, greased bowl, brush with melted butter or margarine, cover and place in a warm site to double in size about 11/2 to 13/4 hours;
8) Turn on to a floured surface and knead just to deflate;
9) Cut in to two pieces, cover and let rest 10 minutes;
10) Form into two loaves and place in greased bread pans (9″ x 5″ x 3″);
11) Let rise until doubled about 40 minutes;
12)Place in a 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes, decrease heat to 375 degrees F for an additional 35 minutes or until done;
13) Turn out and brush with melted butter or margarine while still warm.
A bit about Jane and Mary Ann:
Jane Craig MacRae Bean Gerrish
Born: 6 March 1862, Blissfield, Northumberland County, New Brunswick
Died: 23 June 1952, Blackville, Northumberland County, New Brunswick
Parents: John MacRae and Hannah (Helen) Weaver MacRae
Married: 1st James Bean m.1879; 2nd James Gerrish m.1915
Mary Ann Morrison Campbell
Born: 28 April 1883, Morrison Glen; Cape Breton County, NS
Died: 22 August 1952, Sydney, Cape Breton County, NS
Parents: Joseph Morrison and Jessie McKinnon Morrison
Married: Alexander Archibald Campbell
Explanations and Resources:
- Summer Kitchens – Kitchens separate and distinct from the household were common in the southern colonies, where slaves did the food preparation. Kitchen buildings included a second story to house the slaves sleeping quarters. These structures assured families the comfort and protection from heat, smells and fire risk associated with kitchen environments. In northern colonies summer kitchen developed after the invention of the cook stove. Sometimes separate and distinction structures but more often than not semi detached spaces which could be converted to meet the season requirements. Summer kitchens did not go unused during winter months but instead were used for other smelly work, such as laundry.
- Whitney Pier, Cape Breton County, NS was named for Industrialist Herman Melville Whitney who established the Dominion Coal Company (1893) and the Dominion Coal and Steel Company (1901). Whitney Pier developed as a result of two major industries, coal mining and steel making. Whitney Pier a working class community was at the nexus of the two industries in Cape Breton, separated from Sydney by the steel plant property and connected to coal mining centers of Glace Bay and New Waterford by extensive rail systems designed to bring coal for use in the steel plant or shipped from the pier. The ‘Pier’ is a unique and diverse community built by steel workers and coal miners from across the world drawn by the promise of jobs during the early years of the 20th century.
- Lingan Road, now a part of the larger community once known as Whitney Pier in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. The community is comprised of modest working class family homes whose back gardens were linked by a back lane, which facilitated communication and interaction. Those who grew up in the area remember fondly the comings and goings on those back lanes and appreciate their role in the texture of the community.
- Summer Kitchen – an article by the Pennsylvania Agricultural project: http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/agriculture/field-guide/summer-kitchen.html
- Kitchens Apart – An essay by Michael Olmert at the University of Maryland as part of his larger series “Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies: Outbuildings and the Architecture of Daily Life in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic”