It’s surprising what happened at the kitchen table

From our June 2012 issue

By Agnes York – Saskatoon, Sask.

Having a dishwasher is considered standard equipment in the kitchen these days, however, in the house in which I grew up we didn’t even have a kitchen sink!

The dishes were washed in a dishpan on the kitchen table. We didn’t have indoor plumbing so the pan was half-filled with water taken from the reservoir on the wood stove, or with hot water from the kettle on the stove.

There was no draining rack, just another pan to put the washed dishes into until they were dried with a tea towel and often no rinse unless there were a lot of dishes, like when we had company. Dishes were usually done after each meal.

For washing our hands and face, there was a washstand with a basin which was filled with warm water from the stove or with water from a pail and dipper which also stood on the washstand. This pail of water was also our drinking water.

There was a larger pail for waste water, either under the wash stand or beside it. There were no built-in kitchen cabinets, only a cabinet that held dishes in the top and pots and/or baking supplies in the bottom.

The bit of counter space between held canisters or jars for the storage of coffee, tea, sugar, etc., leaving no extra counter space, so the kitchen table was used for a lot of things that we now use a counter for, such as rolling cookie dough, etc.

It was also where we placed the bowl for mixing the batter for all of our baking, and for kneading bread dough, all done without the help of electric mixers and very often without recipes.

The kitchen table was also used for peeling potatoes and all vegetable and fruit preparation. Sealers for canning were filled on the kitchen table.

The grinding machine would be attached to the table for grinding relish or jam ingredients, and to grind meat for hamburger and sausage and to grind lard for rendering.

At butchering time, the kitchen table was used to cut up pork and beef. It was also here that chickens and other fowl were cleaned. When all that was done, the table was cleared and meat was wrapped on the kitchen table.

It was also on this table that cloth for sewing garments and other household linens was cut, many times without a pattern. Many small repair jobs such as shoes, clocks, maybe even harness and binder canvas were done on this table.

Babies were bathed in a small tub or basin placed on the kitchen table. The list of uses for the kitchen table could go on. This same table, which was usually covered with oil cloth, was used for having coffee and casual visits with relatives, friends, and neighbours who dropped in.

It was used for all the family meals, and many important family decisions and plans were discussed, and made, while seated around it. The dining room table was used only for special occasions and Sunday company.

Today we no longer have such a kitchen table. In our kitchen along with our built-in cupboards, fridge, stove, dishwasher and sink sits a wee table for two which we use for breakfast and lunch.

We use our larger table in the dining area for our evening meal and for company. I think that the warmth and versatility of that old kitchen table will never be recaptured.