ROBERT ST. JOHN: Appliances: From my youth to today

By Robert St. John

I moved into a new house a few months ago. It’s not actually a newly built house, just a new house as far as I am concerned. I lived at my previous address for 17 years, which is actually the longest stint I had lived anywhere. During the move, I learned that my wife could be a candidate for the television show “Hoarders.” I will not move again.
There are many aspects about the new house that appeal to our family. There is a little more room so it’s very easy for the kids to have more friends over; it’s in a neighborhood where other children live (our previous home was situated in between a hospital and a university, a very busy street void of children); and it has a new kitchen.

Lovin’ my kitchen
The previous home had a very small kitchen that was built the same year I was born. I had upgraded the appliances, but there wasn’t a lot of room in which to work in a kitchen so old.
For 17 years I had been working with one oven. It’s hard to cook a Thanksgiving lunch or Christmas Eve dinner for 12 or more people with one oven. I usually cooked the turkey on a smoker outside, put the dressing in the oven, and then quickly drove to the restaurant and cooked everything else up there before transporting it back to the house just before the meal was served – the holiday scramble.
Now I have three ovens. This year I was able to cook an entire holiday meal without having to use a gallon of gasoline.
This new house is only a few blocks away from my childhood home. As I was cooking pasta for an army of 40 the other night, I thought back to the kitchens of my youth. The house my mom built in 1968 had a more colorful kitchen than I own today. That’s not necessarily a good thing.
The appliances in her kitchen were dark yellow. Actually, I think the official name was harvest gold. It seemed that every kitchen built in the 1960s was either harvest gold or avocado green.
I suspect she opted for the harvest gold because it was closer to the early-American Williamsburg interiors she loved. Williamsburg was her Mecca. Our entire home was a tribute to the colonists and their stark style.
Stark, though, was selective in my mother’s world. My childhood bathroom was a patriotic tribute to the framers, as the toilet was red and the sink was blue. I still bear the scars from having to use a red toilet for 12 years.
When I mentioned to my mother that the colonists didn’t have appliances, she brushed it off with a comment such as, “If they did, I’m sure they would have been gold.”

All in the family
Her mother, my grandmother, was also a fan of the early-American motif. Though all of her appliances were avocado green. There always seemed to be an underlying mother-daughter rift as to which appliance color would have been the preferred hue in the 18th Century. To my knowledge, no one ever weighed in on how the colonists might have felt about shag carpeting.
Growing up, I didn’t even know what an avocado was. The Bowen family lived down the street and ate avocados mashed up in a bowl with milk and sugar for breakfast. That seemed slightly exotic at the time. For the record, their appliances were white.
Today, appliances are mostly stainless steel, shag carpeting has gone the way of platform shoes, and avocados are passé. Best of all, toilets are white and I no longer have to drive to cook a meal.

Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.