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Less Haste, More Heart for the 21st Century Cook - With The Merger of New Home Appliances and Family

Oct 11, 2007
The kitchen has long been the "heart of the home" and, at the same time, a site of technological innovation. We've come a long way from cooking over an open hearth with the kitchens of today offering performance, technology and innovation at our fingertips. The kitchen's continuous evolution from a design and technology home appliance standpoint will only magnify its role as the centre for family connection and human interaction.

Liberation through Innovation

For centuries, food was cooked over a fire burning in an open hearth made of stone or brick. The cooking fire also heated the room and cast light. In the early years of settlement in Canada, the kitchen was a multi-purpose space where the housewife not only prepared the family meals, but heated water for washing, dried laundry on rainy days, and spun wool, among many other tasks.

More than any other part of the house, the kitchen was the focus of family life and the food made there was essential to the family's health and well-being. It was hard work cooking in an open hearth kitchen - from lifting heavy iron pots beside the hot fire to peeling and stringing up hundreds of apples to dry. There was the pleasure of creating delicious dishes made from seasonal garden produce and locally raised meat and game. There was an equal satisfaction in knowing how to preserve and store food over the winter and how to make the most of limited supplies before the next harvest.

Canada's early cooks were resourceful and economical. Nothing was wasted - not even leftover grease from cooking, which when boiled up with lye extracted from the ashes of the fire made homemade soap. And the housewife was seldom alone in the kitchen: every able family member participated in kitchen activities, which included carrying water in from the well and restocking the wood pile. By necessity, the kitchen was the social hub of the home.

Over the past 150 years or so, women have welcomed new laboursaving gadgets and cooking equipment, from the mid-19th century apple-paring machine to the nonstick fry pan. Whereas these and other small appliances made life easier for cooks, some inventions transformed the kitchen environment and radically changed culinary practices

The time saved also eventually allowed women to spread their wings outside the home. The iron cook stove took the place of the open hearth in the 1850s. By the 1920s, gas and electric stoves were common. Today, we see induction cooktops, an extremely responsive and effective method of cooking that heats and cools quickly. Electric refrigerators began to be manufactured in Canada only in 1925, and the tough economic times of the Depression slowed their adoption.

It took a while for Canadian families to replace the ice-box, which required the regular delivery of large blocks of ice to keep the compartment cool. Electric home refrigeration undoubtedly also contributed to safe food storage. Today, refrigerators are created for the kitchen as a social hub, with counter-depth designs that allow for added kitchen space, and under-counter refrigerators that bring refreshments directly into the area where people entertain.

The 1930s also ushered in the electric mixer. The most elemental task of food preparation - stirring a mixture with a wooden spoon - could now be done by machine. Whereas earlier kitchens had been like "living rooms" in which the owner arranged separate pieces of furniture to her liking (free-standing sink, stove, ice-box, table, cupboard), from the mid-1930s onward kitchen design increasingly reflected the efficiencies gained by all the new equipment.

Large appliances were positioned following ergonomic principles and built seamlessly into a run of counters and cupboards. This concept of the scientifically advanced and smoothly functioning modern kitchen that began to take shape in the 1930s remains the ideal today. A few new materials for utensils (for example, easily moulded and colourful plastic, heat-resistant silicone), new tools (such as steam dishwashers, blenders, food processors, microwaves with built-in hoods) and new technologies (convection and induction) have been added to the cook's arsenal, but otherwise the basic elements have not changed much. What we have seen are kitchen design and utensils honed to such a peak of efficiency it is difficult to imagine saving any more time through this route, although "smart homes" governed by computers offer the tantalizing promise of remote control.

Elemental Connect ions

For the biggest change in culinary practices over the past ten years, one must look outside the kitchen to grocery store shelves, where women (and men) can now choose from an almost stupefying selection of ready prepared, heat-and-serve foods. Although these developments in the marketplace help families with their time-challenged lives, there has been a corresponding loss of home cooking skills, and Canadians are further separated from the original source of their food. If there is no mud to wash off the potatoes, there may be one less cooking task, but it's also difficult to see the connection between field and table.

From a room of many functions, in rhythm with the agricultural cycle in the 19th century, the Canadian kitchen has become a space where families may prepare a meal without actually "cooking." Yet, despite this extraordinary evolution in the kitchen, it continues to be the central gathering place for family. Food - its preparation and consumption - is not only a requirement for survival, but also a powerful bond

It may not be necessary, as it was in previous generations, to work as hard to produce a meal, but we still enjoy cooking when we are able and we still want to share our food experiences with others - in an efficient and inviting space that allows everyone to participate. We don't need to be in the kitchen (or in the fields) as much as our forebears did, but it's still fundamental for us as social beings to interact through cooking and eating.

In the 21st century, we are discovering it's important to know where our food comes from, to make healthy choices about food, and to be wary of the unintended effects of new technology. Functional and efficient kitchens are taken for granted. It will be designers and manufacturers of products that respond to the elemental human need to connect through food who will help us chart a positive course into the culinary future. This design will also succeed in keeping the kitchen at the heart of the home.
About the Author
Kitchenaid.ca offers most major home appliances and kitchen appliances and accessories, including washers, dryers, refrigerators.
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