kitchen

kitchen, separate room or other space set aside for the cooking or preparation of meals. When cooking first moved indoors, it was performed, with other domestic labors, in the common room, where the fire burned on the hearth, or—even earlier, before chimneys were known—on the floor in the center of the room. With the building of larger houses, the kitchen became a separate room. Little is known of the culinary arrangements of antiquity. Excavations at Pompeii show separate rooms fitted with the simple equipment still used in some Asian cooking. A large brazier, or metal basket on legs, held burning charcoal over which a single basin could be simmered. In homes of wealthy Romans a bench of brick or masonry contained several holes, so that a number of dishes could be cooked at once. Water was kept in jars and heated in large caldrons. Although the peoples of N Europe used stoves from ancient times for heating, they cooked over open fires and baked in outdoor ovens. In the Middle Ages, many of the finest kitchens were in the monasteries; the kitchens were in separate buildings and were equipped for cooking, brewing, and baking on a large scale. In North American colonial and pioneer days the kitchen was large enough to accommodate the operations of spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, and harness mending as well as cooking. Early American manor houses, especially in the South, usually had separate kitchens, often connected with the house by a covered way or porch. Many farmhouses, before the use of gas or electricity, had a separate summer kitchen, where canning or preserving and the preparation of meals for harvest workers could be carried on without heating the house. Kitchens remain places for cooking as well as hubs of family life. In addition to a sink, cabinets, stove, and refrigerator, many have a dishwasher, trash compactor, garbage disposal, and smaller appliances, such as food processors and microwave ovens. Microwave ovens, usually smaller than conventional ovens and used as adjuncts, heat foods quickly without drying them out, but also without browning, and can be used to quickly defrost frozen food.

See M. Harrison, The Kitchen in History (1973); J. Driemens, Kitchens (1987).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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