Island Stories: The Kitchen Range
by Theresa Redmond
RED Magazine Volume EIGHT 2014
As winter deepens, my mind drifts back to winter days in our farm kitchen in Coraville, where waves of heat emanated from our white enamel Fawcett range - the workhorse of the PEI farm kitchen. Ours had a shiny black cooking surface, with round cast-iron covers, and a tank for heating water. Below were doors to the ashbin, oven and 'kindlin' place. Above the stove was the warming oven, intended for food, but which Mum kept stuffed with home-knit socks and mitts.
The range was the heart of the kitchen and so the centre of our farm's life, starting early in the morning. Papa always got up first to light the fire and have his tea and breakfast, usually an 'egg on a saucer' cooked directly on the stove top; likely a peaceful time before the rest of us got up. Mum came down next, and once the kitchen was warm, we kids followed. We'd pull up hard-backed kitchen chairs, put our feet on the oven door, and eat breakfast before trundling off to the one-room school at the end of the lane.
"Mum (Mary Redmond) with a pan of biscuits"
Coming home from school at noon, we'd be met at the kitchen door by the tantalizing smell of dinner. My favourite was when Mum cooked a roast. We'd come into the kitchen, warm and moist from boiling vegetables, and see the roast keeping warm on the oven door while Mum made the gravy. I don't think any meal since has matched the simple pleasure of tucking into those dinners.
The warm kitchen was the best place for many farm tasks, whether mending horse blankets, repairing harness or straining milk. Baby piglets, born on frost winter nights, were kept warm in a cardboard box on the oven door and fed heated milk with an eyedropper. One particularly bitter night Papa took up from the barn a potato basket of little pigs, almost blue from the cold. He remembered there was a bit of 'shine someone had left in the pantry and gave a few drops to each little pig, then set the basket on the oven door and hoped for the best. Before long, we watched fascinated, as the basket started rocking The piglets came to life and were raring to go, having survived both the cold and their first and last drink of spirits.
We'd all spend the evenings together in the kitchen, the children doing homework at the kitchen table, while Mum knit by the stove and Papa lay on the lounge. When neighbours dropped in to spend the evening telling stories we'd crawl up behind Papa on the couch and listen, spellbound. Homework forgotten, but an education nonetheless.
All winter, we and the neighbour kids played outside, coasting, skating, playing hockey and building snow forts. After a couple of hours, our hands would be freezing so someone would be sent to the kitchen for a supply of dry mitts, trying to go unnoticed so as not to get captured for chores. One day, my brother was rummaging in the warming oven, randomly pulling out mitts, when Mum stopped him saying "Brendy, those mitts don't match. Let me find mates."
Grinning Brendy reassured her, "Don't worry, Mum, nobody in Corraville cares about matching mitts." Sure enough, we happily replaced our wet mitts with warm, dry, unmatched ones, just glad to be able to stay out for another couple hours.
Even after we got electricity, a furnace and an electric stove, the old Fawcett range was lit on all but the warmest summer days. A bit rusty with a few burned-out grates, this old workhorse cooked our meals, heated the kitchen and supported our tired feet on the oven door.
Our farmhouse is gone now - struck by lightning and burned - taking everything with it. Now in deep winter, as I sit in the new house, I think back on the old kitchen with it's Fawcett range and realize it was the real heart of the family. Papa always said the new furnace didn't make the kitchen as warm as the old kitchen stove. I'm not sure that was true, but the memory of the pulsing heat still feels like the heart of the family to me.