by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
What color is your kitchen? When we moved to our current house, I kept telling Carol that avocado and turquoise appliances would make a comeback, but she did not agree (not uncommon), and we went with traditional white.
This month’s article is about appliance colors and the evolution of the kitchen. It features a new, fun book titled “The Midcentury Kitchen” by Sarah Archer. It is described as “An illustrated pop history from aqua to avocado, Westinghouse to Wonder Bread. With archival photographs, advertisements, magazine pages and movie stills, ‘The Midcentury Kitchen’ captures the spirit of an era―and a room―where anything seemed possible. More than 100 color photographs and illustrations.”
In an interview I had with the author, she believes that “the period from 1920-1960 was so transformative for the way so many people live day-to-day, and apart from the advent of computers and the internet, I’m not sure if we’ve had an equivalent degree of change since then. It also connects to so many aspects of life, from food and design to technology and politics.”
Sarah writes in her introduction that “the question of who’s in the kitchen determined what kind of room it is, how it works, and what it looks like. Before the Industrial Revolution, kitchens were not at all considered part of the living spaces … for the wealthy, the kitchen was just one of several workspaces for the household staff, (reminiscent of the Granthams on Downton Abbey), the fruits of the kitchen were to be enjoyed in the dining room emerging fully from a room rarely if ever visited by those who owned the house. Appliances have undergone cosmetic changes and become much more energy efficient since the 1950s but in most other ways, the midcentury kitchen has yet to be improved upon.”
The book traces the women’s movement and how after World War II, women, who had spent the war in factories doing productive work, now had to make way for all the returning soldiers. Managing the wonderful big new kitchen and raising wonderful children was now the woman’s full-time job. The kitchen became the new control center.
In the beginning as they say, kitchens were a much simpler place consisting of a fireplace or woodstove, a table and chairs — and little else. But then came electricity, and that changed everything. Kitchens became the place to cook food, keep it cold, wash the dishes, grill, toast and so on. The kitchen had always been the place for gathering, a hangout for the family, friends and guests. And because of that, the idea of making it more aesthetically pleasing was a natural evolution. Color — an attention-getter — became important in the kitchen.
Initially, white was it as far as appliances were concerned. But in the 1950s, other colors were introduced — Stratford Yellow, Sherwood Green, Turquoise Green, Cadet Blue, Woodtone Brown, Petal Pink and Canary Yellow. In the 1960s, a few new shades were added — yellow, pink and turquoise and the most popular, Coppertone, stayed popular for many years. In the ’60s, turquoise was replaced by my favorites: Avocado, Harvest Gold and Bronze.
Whites returned in the ’80s and ’90s. With the new century came a new color. Not actually a color, but a metallic: stainless steel. Stainless and black became today’s appliance finishes of choice. Some say that’s because more men were cooking, and finding it hard to picture themselves in a pink kitchen.
Many of you know I am a Disney fan, and Sarah includes pictures of the white Monsanto House of the Future that was featured in Tomorrowland at Disneyland in California. The home debuted in 1957, set in the year 1986. Over 20 million visitors toured it before it closed in 1967. “More than any of the other ‘kitchens of tomorrow,’ the Monsanto house embraced the use of the material that defined the 1960s: plastic.”
The Kitchen also included the first microwave. Invented after World War II from radar technology, Sharp Corporation introduced the first home microwave ovens in the late 1960s which sold then for $495 or the equivalent of around $4,000 today. Another product that Sarah includes in her fascinating book that was originally devised for military use in World War II was Tupperware. Earl Tupper designed a set of tumblers made from the plastic polyethylene which had been used to insulate electrical wires in military equipment. According to Sarah, Tupperware wasn’t doing as well as Tupper had hoped in department stores, and he teamed up with a woman named Brownie Wise and started Tupperware Parties.
I end this article with one of my favorite lines from her book, as it brought back many personal memories: “The 1960s foodscape was surprisingly retrospect. This era when Americans happily consumed Wonder Bread, marshmallow fluff and spreadable cheese, was also the moment when home cooks could put a portable television in their kitchen and learn how to make boeuf bourguignon from a tall, patrician women who liked butter and good wine, and wasn’t afraid to use a meat cleaver.”
I went online, and it appears our local Barnes and Noble does not have “The Midcentury Kitchen” by Sarah Archer (Norton is the publisher) in stock but they would be happy order it for you. It is a fun read and worth it just for all the photos and graphics.
Tomatoes are abundant, and we are having a record year in our small garden. A chilled tomato soup is most refreshing on a hot day. This recipe from the New York Times is a little more labor intensive and has you charring your tomatoes over coals or under the broiler to add a rusty smoky flavor. If you are not a cilantro lover you may want to reduce the amount.
Yields 6 to 8 servings. Time 30 minutes plus chilling.
3 pounds ripe red tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of ground cayenne
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
2 cups roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems (from 2 bunches)
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 pint cherry tomatoes, mixed colors, cut in quarters
1 cup fresh ricotta or thick yogurt
2 tablespoons snipped chives, for garnish
Prepare a charcoal grill or light the broiler. Remove cores from tomatoes and cut them in half horizontally. Season with salt and pepper on both sides and brush lightly with olive oil.
Place tomatoes skin-side down on the grill and leave for about 10 minutes, until skins are blackened and tomatoes have softened slightly. (If using the broiler, place the tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet skin-side up and broil for 10 minutes.) Transfer tomatoes to a large bowl.
Add garlic, cayenne, coriander seeds, cilantro, 2 tablespoons olive oil and sherry vinegar. Stir all ingredients together. Let mixture sit for 10 minutes to allow flavors to marry.
Purée tomato mixture with a blender or food processor. Strain through a medium mesh sieve, if desired. Thin with a little water if too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning. Chill well. (The soup will taste best if served within a few hours.)
Put cherry tomatoes in a small bowl. Sprinkle with salt and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.
To serve, ladle the soup into chilled shallow bowls. Put a large spoonful of ricotta on top, and spoon cherry tomatoes over. Sprinkle with chives.