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|The Domestic Offices at Northanger
Written by JulieW
(4/20/2006 9:26 a.m.)
From the dining–room, of which, though already seen, and always to be seen at five o’clock, the general could not forgo the pleasure of pacing out the length, for the more certain information of Miss Morland, as to what she neither doubted nor cared for, they proceeded by quick communication to the kitchen — the ancient kitchen of the convent, rich in the massy walls and smoke of former days, and in the stoves and hot closets of the present. The general’s improving hand had not loitered here: every modern invention to facilitate the labour of the cooks had been adopted within this, their spacious theatre; and, when the genius of others had failed, his own had often produced the perfection wanted. His endowments of this spot alone might at any time have placed him high among the benefactors of the convent.
With the walls of the kitchen ended all the antiquity of the abbey; the fourth side of the quadrangle having, on account of its decaying state, been removed by the general’s father, and the present erected in its place. All that was venerable ceased here. The new building was not only new, but declared itself to be so; intended only for offices, and enclosed behind by stable–yards, no uniformity of architecture had been thought necessary. Catherine could have raved at the hand which had swept away what must have been beyond the value of all the rest, for the purposes of mere domestic economy; and would willingly have been spared the mortification of a walk through scenes so fallen, had the general allowed it; but if he had a vanity, it was in the arrangement of his offices; and as he was convinced that, to a mind like Miss Morland’s, a view of the accommodations and comforts, by which the labours of her inferiors were softened, must always be gratifying, he should make no apology for leading her on.
Below is a picture of the old Kitchen at Burghley House, Lincolnshire, which I think might give you a taste( forgive the pun) of what Catherine would have wanted in a gothic Kitchen.
This was not part of an Abbey but was built in the late 16th century and its vaulted ceiling certainly givers it an impression of antiquity. If you look at the right and side of the picture, you can see some small round objects stuck on the vault: they are the skulls of turtles, the only remains from numerous pots of turtle soup! How horrid!! Catherine would surely have approved.
However, instead of a medieval sight such as this, she was faced with more of the General’s improvements.
Look at this kitchen , below, and see just why Catherine was disappointed. It might look slightly romantic to us now at 200 years remove, but for Catherine it was the equivalent of a modern minimalistic creation.
She was also amazed at the sheer amount of rooms that made up the General’s domestic offices.
They took a slight survey of all; and Catherine was impressed, beyond her expectation, by their multiplicity and their convenience. The purposes for which a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deemed sufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate divisions, commodious and roomy
Here is a floor plan of the domestic offices at Speke Hall, Merseyside, which might have been similar in layout to the General’s grand set of domestic offices
If poor old Catherine was used to only a scullery and a couple of pantries, this grand domestic array of rooms must have taken her aback a little. And it certainly did not fit her romantic ideal
Back to the modernisation’s in the Kitchen.
From around 1770 the increase in the use of cast iron in the kitchen due to improved casting techniques enabled ovens and stoves made of that material to be introduced in to modern kitchens for the first time.
Roasting ranges were thus introduced. Prior to this , meat had been roasted on spits in front of an open fire.
Let me quote from The Country House Kitchen 1650-1890, in particular from the chapter Kitchen Fireplaces and Stoves by Peter Brears:
Roasting ranges of enormous size were now provided with cast –iron face-plates and also with wrought –iron back boilers to provide both hot water and steam for the kitchens. The basic form remained unchanged up to the end of the nineteenth century….
As far as stoves were concerned they could now be fitted with cast iron grates and with cast iron worktops…The arches recesses in their bases could also be improved by inserting a cast –iron shelf half way up , making space for ashes above and for fresh charcoal below..
Count Rumford’s tenth essay was devoted to the Construction of Kitchen Fire-places and Kitchen Utensils. He also developed very effective steamers which fitted on the top of the boilers on his stove
He detested open roasting ranges for their inefficiency: he considered that “ more fuel is frequently consumed in a kitchen –range to boil a tea kettle then, with proper management, would be sufficient to cook a good dinner for fifty men….
To solve this problem he devised the Rumford roasting oven. This gave the cook full control over the heat, and also over the dryness or moisture content of the meat. The invention was terribly popular but only for a short time…I’ll bet the General had one installed, gadget freak that he was...
Again quoting Peter Brears, as above:
Athough most of his own designs rapidly went out of fashion, the principle he had established continued to be very influential throughout the nineteenth century.
His stoves were no longer in production as early as the 1840s.
( FX; sound off of Catherine Morland cheering…………)
However, I do have to say, if I had to be a cook at that time I would have wanted to work for the General , with all his mod cons( but wait: consider that temper ,and his dedication to precise time keeping …No, on second thoughts, probably not…..
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