Two weeks ago, after a day of strong wind and rain, a plastic seal dropped out of the chimney in my kitchen. The previous owners of my house had fitted the old fireplace with a wood burning stove and whilst I found it very satisfying having this piece of old cooking equipment there, I felt I would never use it. The firebox was tiny and required briquettes and finely chopped kindling for fuel. Not my thing. The plastic had been inserted as part of a government initiative to cut energy costs to households and to prevent the house from losing heat over winter. When the plastic dropped out I could see I had a fully functional chimney. How good would it be to have an open fireplace in my kitchen! My cramped kitchen could be a completely different space with the walls to the adjacent laundry demolished, the bench repositioned and the room opened up.
Within a week the laundry was demolished; the lathe and plaster walls were removed and the gaps re-plastered; and the floorboards were replaced, sanded and polished. Late one afternoon I set a grate in the fireplace and we burned old floorboards and lathe from the walls.
I first saw my kitchen in Italy many years ago. My then husband and I stayed in a hotel near the French border. I can’t remember the town or its location but the hotel was close to a lake, the fields were full of spent tomato vines and Summer shutting down.
We went out early for a walk. I remember rising mist on the lake and the chill of Autumn, but my strongest memory of that day was coming back from cold to warm and into the hotel via the back door and the kitchen. In the kitchen women were working around a huge central table. Their conversation and laughter filled the room and spilled out into the passageway. Have I imagined the flour as they patted pasta dough or were they rolling out dough for the day’s pastes? From that moment I held on to the idea of a kitchen full of work, conversation, laughter, smells and good food. I filed that image under “ideal kitchen working space” and now finally I have fashioned a version of it.
Later, for breakfast we ate fresh white bread and tomato jam and I imagine we drank strong coffee with velvety textured milk. The same women rolling pasta dough would have peeled and seeded tomatoes then stirred then with sugar in a massive pot until the jam reached setting point.
Today the plumber is reinstalling my sink, oven and dishwasher. My builder has ordered timber to make the workbench that will take me back to the end of Summer in Italy and to those women, joyously at work, and the taste bread and tomato jam.