Kitchens I Have Known and Loved: Anatevka

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York  I  Sunday, 11 March 2018

The kitchen really is the castle itself.
This is where we spend our happiest moments
and where we find the joy of being a family.
~Mario Batali

This is the first kitchen I remember, in our old colonial house called Anatevka…

The picture above was taken by my mom, Carol, when she photographically documented the house, sometime before it was torn down in 2002. So, what you see in this photo is quite an emptyish kitchen, one not being used at the time of the photograph. That’s why it’s so clean and uncluttered.

My family moved from Anatevka after I finished fourth grade, so I don’t have many memories of the kitchen, really. I do remember, though, it had a built-in spice cabinet, and also, a pantry off the kitchen, which we never used because it was in pretty bad shape. I seem to remember there once being a box of Moon Pies in there…Strange, what we remember, all those years later.

In my memory, this kitchen was not particularly cheerful, since it had only one small window, facing north, over the sink. Whoever was washing dishes at that dark brown sink would’ve had a view right over to the V house, where I live now.

The stove was to the left of the sink, but I don’t remember what kind it was, and the fridge was located in the kitchen corner closest to the bathroom, with no cabinets or counters around it.

The white door you see on the right side of the photo was a swinging one, and led into a rather gloomy bedroom, with a north-facing window.

There was also a door on the right, leading to a mudroom-type porch, which then led to a cement pad with easy steps, and then out to the horseshoe-shaped driveway. Right where Grandma Sweetie, the maple tree I love so much, where she sheds her golden leaves.

There was also another door leading to the small bathroom, as well as yet another door leading to a very short hall, which led to the living room.

But behind the bedroom, behind the swinging door on the right of the photograph, behind all this was a cheerful sun porch, facing east, with windows on three sides, and a door to north side of the yard. I’ve noticed several other colonial homes on this road have eastern-facing sun rooms, as well, some added appear to be added on much later. What a cheerful idea!

I specifically remember reading Charlotte’s Web and The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle in our sun room. And I also remember playing with the neighbor boys and my stuffed elephant, Ella, back in that room. I almost wonder if it was my bedroom at one point, but I don’t think so.

But right now, let’s get back to the kitchen. Everything always comes back to the kitchen, and it’s where everyone ends up at the party, right?

It’s because there’s food there, and where there’s food, there’s life…

Really, the only memory I have of being in the kitchen at Anatevka goes way back to August 8, 1974, when we sat around the radio, listening to Richard Nixon resign as President of the United States. We didn’t have a TV, and I was only 7 1/2 at the time, so I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I knew it was must be interesting to grown-ups.

Funny. I don’t have any warm and fuzzy memories of breakfasts or dinners in this kitchen, but I do remember sitting around the radio, knowing I was listening to something pretty important…

But let’s get back to that dark-brown sink, pictured in the photo above. How well I know this kitchen sink and its surrounding cabinets! I’m looking at them now, as I type…

How, you ask? If Anatevka was torn down, how did the sink make its way into my kitchen upstairs at Valoftten? It must have been when my father remodeled to make the corridor into the kitchen up here a bit wider, but I’m not sure.

Don’t ask me what happened to the original sink from my kitchen, as I have no idea, and it’s a mystery which plagues me still. It was probably white, I’m thinking, like the kitchen downstairs.

But I’ve grown quite fond of my old dark brown sink, with all its chips and imperfections…

Have I mentioned I’ve taken a liking to McCoy and Hull pottery? Yes, I think I have. Even when I was still living in Salt Lake, I was attracted to it, when I shopped at Deseret Industries, the local thrift store. Maybe it was the New England girl in me, longing for a dark-brown bean pot, chock full and simmering in the oven on a Saturday night, delightfully doctored up with molasses and brown sugar.

You know, back in colonial times, many religions were so strict, they sternly frowned upon cooking on the Sabbath. So, oftentimes, provident housewives would put some beans to soak on Saturday morning (or maybe even Friday night), lace them with molasses and brown sugar, and maybe even a bit of salt pork, if things were going well. Then, the beans would slowly cook in the fire or bake oven, all through Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

I’ve also read that some housewives took their bean pots into town to the local baker, and he would put a bunch of them in his giant oven. I can’t quite figure out why they would do this, why they wouldn’t just bake them at home? I’ll have to research this more.

I imagine the colonial family, returning home from church on a starkly cold and wintery day, to the mouth-watering smell and delicious taste of baked beans. Maybe there would also be a bit of cornbread, or Boston Brown Bread, or an apple pie for dessert? Yum!

I have yet to find a bean pot I like, but I’ve found a few pieces of McCoy and Hull pottery, which I use on a daily basis. I love how they hold the heat and are so pleasant to cup in my hands. I like them so very much that I become quite disappointed if they’re all dirty, and I have to use something else. (Heaven forbid I should wash out my favorite pieces after each use, right?)

And maybe, just maybe, I love how the dark brown of the pottery matches the dark brown of my kitchen sink…

P.S. What’s in the mug? It kind of looks like hot chocolate with lots of melty whipped cream of top, huh? But it’s not. It’s a bowl of coconut rice soup, sprinkled with paprika. If I wasn’t out of cashews, I would’ve dropped in a few of them on top, as well.

Next month, I’ll write about the kitchen at V House, where I lived from 6th grade to 12th grade, and where I live now. Here’s a sneak peek, below.

[MORE INFORMATION]
To find out more about Party Food, the book in the last photo:
https://www.workman.com/products/the-artisanal-kitchen-party-food

To read about the resignation of Richard Nixon:
https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-resigns