My family never needs to wonder where I am these days, as I am always sure to be not far away, in my second home, the "summer kitchen".
Also known as a "summer house", summer kitchens were once a staple of pioneer life. Their purpose was to keep the heat from cooking and canning in a separate place from the main house. The main house could then be kept comfortable for sleeping.
For my ancestors, the summer kitchen was the hub of all summer activity, and also was where the butchering of meat for the year took place once the weather turned colder.
Once larger homes and smaller families became the norm, as well as air conditioning, summer kitchens lost their purpose and soon disappeared from yard sites. Not to mention the fact that less and less people were keeping big gardens and preserving enough to last the year.
Here I am in my summer kitchen, happy as can be, up to my armpits in apples.
As I live in a cozy little house without air conditioning, I absolutely adore this second space. First of all, it has more cupboards and counter space than my actual kitchen. And since it is devoted strictly to cooking and preserving, the tables and floor can stay covered in jars and buckets of fresh goodies without me feeling I need to constantly be "putting things away."
Herbs we've collected hang in paper bags from the beams over my head, and I can work without worry of scuffing the cement floor beneath my feet.
I also have a strong emotional attachment to my summer kitchen as it was built almost 60 years ago by my late grandfather. A man who loved Nature and the outdoors, it is no surprise that he felt the need to build a summer kitchen that looked like it belonged in the wilderness.
Here he is with his beloved "Trixer", about ten years ago, not long before his passing. Unfortunately, grandpa never got to take part in the restoration of his log house.
Although originally built with the intention as a summer kitchen, it was used as a barn for livestock, then as a repair shop for farm equipment. No one would have ever guessed that 60 years later it would finally be used for its original purpose.
Constructed from poplar logs that he hauled in from the nearby pasture, it is still standing sturdy, although not without the love and dedication of committed family members.
I can still remember the day I looked at the old log house and thought to myself, "that would make a beautiful summer kitchen."
I really never thought it would become what it has. I am so very grateful to my father and husband for making this happen.
My dad cut new poplars to make replacements for the bottom 2 rows of logs, which were rotting from years of sitting on the dirt, and he also built the amazing doors.
My husband wired in new lights and plugs, replaced the tin roof and lined the ceiling in pine.
I spent an obscene amount of hours re-chinking the logs. My family declared this the "2 weeks when mom didn't feed us."
Obviously there are countless other days of repair and building that I am not mentioning, but I'm sure you get the idea. As we progressed, and the more beautiful it became, we kept taking it a little farther. Speaking of, here is the butcher block countertop my husband made me. The old sinks were donated by my mother, who has taught me the fine art of saving things that will one day come in handy.
I don't have running water, but I do have a nearby garden hose, and a pail beneath the sinks that is then dumped on the herb garden just outside. A summer water line is in the works for "one day", as you realize just how much water you use when you have to carry every single drop of it.
I now understand how years ago, it seemed like someone was always "fetching water."
Here is the modern area of my kitchen, complete with a mini fridge, electric stove, and dehydrator. As you can see, I am hardly suffering out here.
I can't imagine what it must have been like for the women who worked all day in the heat of a wood cookstove.
Here's my boys, Shep and Huck, helping their mama make plum jam.
Here is my Summer with one of her many pies. We also refer to our summer kitchen as "Summer's Kitchen", since she can often be found cooking out here, with or without me.
Summer fed us beet borscht one hot day after we came in from haying. We have probably used our summer kitchen more this year than any other as it has been hotter than usual.
As I tend to my garden, my summer kitchen conveniently and patiently waits nearby for me to return with more gifts.
My mother has often said, "it is not the money I made over the years, it is the money I saved." And it is from feeding us all her homemade goodies in which we saved not only in money, but also in having good health.
The old cookstove becomes a shelf for apple juice and relish as I wait and see that they have sealed properly. We all enjoy building fires in this old stove in the wintertime. There is really nothing quite like the embrace of wood heat in a log cabin when the chill of winter is just outside your door.
The old oak table is weighed down with Crabapples in the process of becoming fruit leather.
My arms are often full when I enter here, and fuller yet when I leave, as I am like a squirrel stashing away my winter supply.
Sage smudge sticks dry above the collection of "lotions and potions" that sit atop the woodbox.
In the corner sits a desk which belonged to my husband's grandfather. It is devoted to books, crystals, feathers, candles, and all other little treasures that do not have space in my home. It is a space of quiet reflection within the bustle of a busy kitchen.
My grandfather's snowshoes hang above the front doors, serving as a touching reminder of someone who appreciated the simple joys in life.
I will often pause from my activity and place my hands upon the logs and feel the love from the trees as well as the love that went into the placement of them.
Although it may seem that a lot of work happens here, it doesn't feel that way for me. I often feel like my summer kitchen is more of a playhouse. Not only is it an extension of my home, it is an extension of me. It is a place of learning, not only for myself, but for my own children. They learn the value of knowing how to care for themselves through cooperation with the Earth, and they get to do so in a relaxed and fun environment.
My summer kitchen is a sacred space that has been set aside for connection to life and to the Earth who provides it.
It is a space for chatter and laughter, music and dancing, as well as for peaceful listening and reverence.
From the moment I step inside these doors, I feel as though I'm being welcomed with a warm hug. Perhaps it is because I can feel my grandfather's presence here, the presence of all of my ancestors, and it is as though they are experiencing life through me. I feel a sense of reunion and of "coming home."
And in using this space, I find that I am that much more deeply connected to Nature and the cycle of the seasons. I am accepting Nature's gifts by using what she is offering for my sustenance.
I feel the elements upon my skin. I sense the subtlest changes in temperature. I appreciate the night breeze as it dances through my open window while I sleep.
And in the morning I return to the aroma of wholesome food, with a song of praise in my heart for the Earth that provides everything I could possibly need.