Happy New Year: A Recap and What’s Ahead!

Happy New Year dear readers! Hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are now ushering in the new year with a zesty amount of excitement and joy.

2017 was an action-packed year in the Vintage Kitchen as we launched Ms. Jeannie on her around-the-world adventure…

opened the vintage kitchen shop…

moved to a new section of the neighborhood…

Indie made sure we didn’t forget her!

and welcomed a bevy of new readers to the blog thanks in part to a feature on WordPress Discover!

WordPress Discover Feature – December 2017!

From January to December, we cooked in the kitchen, whipping up these vintage recipes…

and marveled our way through the wiggly world of vintage gelatin molds alongside fellow cross-country-kitcheners Olivia, Harpie, Marianne and Manny…

Clockwise from top left: Jellied Cheese Ring Salad, Molded Cucumber Mousse, Spanish Cream

We learned about old house kitchen renovations with Renee and Michael, old house histories with Ken, and old time collecting with Cindy and her vintage tea towels…

Clockwise from top left: Renne & Michael’s 1940s kitchen renovation, Ken Staffey’s historic house stories and Cindy’s colorful tea towel collection.

and we celebrated a range of holidays from St. Patricks Day to the 4th of July to Christmas with hand pies and bar nuts, brown bread and turkeys…

Clockwise from left: Citrus Brined Turkey, Cherry Hand Pies, Molasses Brown Bread and Sweet Spiced Bar Nuts

We traveled to the two Washingtons – D.C. and Seattle. One in search of the great Julia Child and the other in search of great-grandma Mabel…

We wrote mini-stories on Instragram…

and celebrated year five of the blog!

We read and we watched, listened and researched  and last, but definitely not least, we paired up old items with new owners in an effort to ensure that the stories of time-laden treasures were never forgotten, just  like the 1950’s Chinese enamelware mug that originated in Tianjin, China and now adventures with Sally in Mississippi.

From the shop to Sally’s!

Based on all the fun we had last year, we can hardly wait to get started on 2018!

This January, we’ll be sharing our favorite list of books discovered over the course of the last 12 months, interviewing an inspiring international jet-setter, exploring an ancient art form born out of a kitchen catastrophe and celebrating a very special kitchen companion’s birthday. And since it is the new year and everybody is wishing each other good health and happiness, we will also be cooking up a few vintage health-conscious recipes that were made for dieting (or reducing, as they liked to call it) in the 1940’s. New vintage items, and all the stories they hold will continue to be added to the shop every week, so stay tuned for a colorful and eclectic month here in the Vintage Kitchen!

Cheers to a cheerful January, with much love from The Vintage Kitchen.

Mabel In the Market: The Search for the 1920’s Doughnut Shop {Part 2}

I’ve never played hide and seek with a city or a ghost before. But that’s exactly what I did with Mabel in Seattle. I was on a mission to find my great-grandmother’s doughnut shop, which according to family lore, was located in Pike Place Market sometime between the years of 1922 and 1940.

Mabel in 1907; Pike Place Market sign in 2017

If this were a movie, I’d find her by doughnut crumb trail.  I’d hop off the plane with weeks of research in hand, pop over to the market and seek out the very spot where Mabel,  my school teacher-trained, Iowa native, Seattle transplant great-grandmother would have rolled out daily stacks of doughnuts during the early 20th century.

I’d scurry through market hallways and stallways…

Pike Place Market Stairs

passing sign after sign…

until I reached my moment of satisfaction. The final destination…

… actual proof, at long-last,  that my Mabel’s place of productivity was here and that her baking legacy survived in these doughnuts still being prepared and displayed in the same way she would have made them 100 years ago…

But this is not a movie and the trail of this baking mystery did not roll out so smoothly. I did go to Seattle and I did go to the market. And I did discover Mabel. Just not exactly the way I thought I would.

As it turns out Mabel just might be the biggest fan of hide and seek I’ve ever known.  She popped in and out of this whole adventure playing her game of come find me in the most superlative of ways.

Before I left for Seattle I had trouble locating any supporting documents that would pin Mabel down in the market. I searched for weeks, trying all sorts of different avenues leading from Seattle to Iowa and back to Seattle again, hoping for a picture, a newspaper article, a copy of a market receipt, a letter home to her family… any small detail that would mention a doughnut or a day stall.   I came up empty handed on all fronts except for a picture I found of her sister Katie with whom Mabel was close…

Hello to Katie!

Taken around 1900, this was a great new addition to the family photo collection. We don’t have any pictures of Mabel’s seven sisters taken while they were young. Katie has no connection to Seattle or to the market that I know of yet but it was encouraging, a good luck sign, perhaps to see the sisterly face of someone who was so important and so close to Mabel.

Back to the market mission,  I was hoping that research helpers at pikeplacemarket.org would be more successful combing their city directories and market archives. They too tried all possible avenues on their end. Had there been a shop name or a specific date things would have been, could have been easier.  Working on it up until the eleventh hour we were communicating back and forth about potential scenarios and information but valid, concrete documentation would elude us both in the end. Mentions of Mabel in the market were nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t all disappointment at this stage though. Mabel came through in another way. A better way actually then documents and even doughnuts. She came to me in the form of dishes…

Dating to early 1900, this is Mabel’s antique flow blue china made by W.H. Grindley in the Portman pattern which had been stacked away, unbeknownst to me, in my sister’s house for years.  How exciting! Dishes that Mabel actually touched in her daily life and that survived her 1,800 mile journey from Iowa to Washington. I could just imagine one of her lovely little doughnuts sitting on this plate. Like her sister’s portrait this was a more delicate and intimate side of Mabel then I ever hoped for. A tangible piece of history and a part of her that I could carry with me back home.

Even though there was no factual info to be had about Mabel’s market days my sisters and I  headed to Pike Place anyway to see if some visual clues might strike us.

We saw fish and flowers, pigs and produce, wall murals and a great busker band. We even saw a real-life Hobart, an invention we blogged about back in May. ( I think I was the only one standing in line at this vendor that was more excited about seeing the mixer then the menu offerings).

But there were no signs of Mabel.  We commiserated over grilled cheese sandwiches and doughnuts on the wharf and talked over the possibility that perhaps Mabel just worked at a doughnut shop instead of owned one. Maybe the family story got muddled and misdirected over time. Maybe Mabel was a cog in the wheel instead of the actual wheel.

We left the farmers market feeling satisfied with food but not with family history. The search continued. Questions were still unanswered.

Further investigations led us out to the suburbs where Mabel popped up again. This time in the form of a house with a big garden yard – the place where she lived for a time in the 1950’s.  And we saw her again in two churches that were built by her only child Philip, just outside of Seattle…

Those three places didn’t provide any new clues but they did suggest a new possibility. What if Mabel made so many doughnuts at the market and on such a large scale that she never wanted to look or think or talk about another doughnut again? What if, when she moved out to the suburbs in 1940, she was done with doughnuts completely? What if that is the reason the family stories never stretched farther than the market mention?

On the last day of my trip, after I made peace with the fact that I would not discover any new information about this family story for the immediate time being,  Mabel sent out a consolation prize.  While doing a little antique shopping, my sister found an old cookbook from 1902 with a woman who looked a little like Mabel on the cover…

Flipping through it look what recipe I found on page 256…

Iowa doughnuts! A recipe from Mabel’s home state nestled in with a whopping 13 other recipes for the willing doughnut maker.  What are the chances of finding such a time appropriate cookbook with such a specific and applicable recipe?  To make this find even more Mabel-fied the inside cover of the cookbook was stamped with the name and address of the previous owner. And guess, dear readers, where that previous owner lived?

The small town where Mabel had her big garden yard and where her son built two churches!

What, really, are the chances of that? Seattle is a big city and the suburbs are dense and bubbling places. The antique shop where we found the cookbook was far from the town where Mabel lived and where her son built the churches. Not every state in the cookbook got its own doughnut recipe (only Iowa and Nebraska). And after almost fifteen years of antique collecting I’ve never come across this specific cookbook before. All signs pointed to Mabel and the magically meant to be.

So even though I didn’t exactly find out all the information I was looking for heading into this trip, I feel like I got to know Mabel so much more than just being able to reiterate some facts and dates. I touched (and took home!) dishes that she herself touched.  I saw the first-time face of her sister.  I saw the house of her senior years and I stood before two big buildings that her son built. And the icing on the doughnut is the found cookbook; owned by a person who lived in the same town as her; and that contains an obscure recipe from her home state for a sweet treat that eventually bore her business. That’s a tidy little package.

The hunt for her market days info is far from over and this story doesn’t yet come full circle but it does come full-spirit. When we eventually solve this mystery of Mabel in the market there might just be a movie style ending. Stay tuned for new updates as the research continues. In the meantime if you missed Part One of this post catch up here.

Cheers to all the “spirited” storytellers out there.

Lovers Who Can’t Quit: In Paris

Was all this so wonderful because it was brief and stolen?

Henry Miller wrote that line in a letter to Anais Nin on August 6th, 1932.  Janice MacLeod wrote that same line in her Paris journal on February 24th just a few years back. Eight decades ago Henry was talking about his love affair with a woman. More recently Janice was talking about her love affair with a city. Both refer to a passion that would and could never be quelled.

Janice!

Two years ago we had the pleasure of interviewing Janice here on the blog about her plans following the publication of her New York Times bestselling book Paris Letters.  When we left off with Janice back in March 2015, she was embarking on a new chapter in her life having just left Paris for Canada with her husband Christophe and a carefree sense of wild adventure in hand.  Calgary was clearly a whole different kettle of fish to tackle than France and Janice just wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to unfold now that she had left her dream city for a new frontier.

Newly arrived… A Paris Year

Fast forward two years and life in Canada for Janice produced a baby (Amelie!) and a new book (A Paris Year!).  Like a lover you can’t quit, Janice’s experiences in France ceased to be forgotten in her new surroundings.  The colors of the city, the  accordion lullabies, the memories of wine, cafes, neighborhood walks, market shopping and the speaking of a language she had almost mastered could never be set aside. Paris came to Canada in Janice’s suitcases, a secret house guest that absolutely refused to go home. Once an admirer always an admirer.

Paris Photography by Janice MacLeod

Lucky for us, Janice’s new book A Paris Year keeps the romance of her gorgeous adventure alive. Laid out like a day planner, A Paris Year tracks Janice’s whereabouts in the City of Light from January 1st to December 30th and includes her pretty paintings and feel-like-you-are-there photographs. Based on her actual journals kept while experiencing the city up-close and personal, Janice packs all sorts of interesting history, fun facts and traditions into the everyday observations that make up the charming lifestyle of French living.

Janice’s lively paintings of all things Parisian.

Part travel guide, part European history lesson, part art crawl and part early language primer, reading A Paris Year is as satisfying as hanging out with your best girl friend all afternoon. It’s interesting and vivacious and inspiring. There are funny moments like November 22nd when Janice truly thought she understood all the offerings on a French menu board only to realize it was written in English. There are sad moments (November 14th) which recognizes the anniversary of the 2015 Paris Attacks. And there are plenty of incredibly beautiful moments (February 2, March 4, May 11th, June 20th, practically the whole month of October, etc etc) that bring the heart of the city home to your doorstep.

There are new characters to meet like Antoine the Poet and Colin the ex-pat, both of whom offer intriguing little side stories that will leave you wondering and wanting.  And of course there all the famous French residents that you associate with the city – F.Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Madame Curie, Vincent Van Gogh, Colette, Edith Piaf, Gaston LeRoux, Sylvia Beach and the ever present star of the show, Ernest Hemingway. He weaves his way in and around Janice’s storytelling as she weaves her way in and around Paris, showing up every few pages in her thoughts and his haunts. The moveable feast still very much moving.

In Janice’s first book Paris Letters, she details step by step how she made the big leap from living an unfulfilling corporate life in California to living a creative life in Paris. That book was the story of an artist’s awakening to her true self. This book, A Paris Year is the full color party she threw to celebrate it. Paris Letters showed us how to make a big change. A Paris Year shows us how to enjoy it.

During some months in A Paris Year, Janice seeks out a specific color to photograph, as an hommage to Nichole Roberston’s book Paris in Color. During the month of May the shade in mind was green.

Janice’s story in both books has an interesting way of sticking around long after you read them. As a result of marinating in the visual artistry of A Paris Year I now walk around my own city looking at the sites before me with new eyes and a running dialogue on how I might best describe a building or a season, a person or a park.

Too pretty to end, the only thing I disliked about this book was that it actually had to end. I was super excited to receive an advance copy in the mail which I read just before leaving for Seattle and then re-read on the flight to Seattle and then once again when I returned back home. I loved it that much… three times over!  Like a daily devotional it offers the unique option of reading a page a day if you are looking for a quick shot of escapism, or you can read it cover to cover, as I did  or you can just pick up and read whatever page you want at random whenever the mood strikes. Janice made it so easy for us to experience her Paris.  Its a day planner and a day dream all wrapped up in one.

If you can’t afford the expense or the time to get to Paris personally this summer, don’t fret.  Spend a few hours with Janice in her book and you’ll feel like you’ve been there yourself. It may be a brief and stolen time, but as Henry Miller implies those are the most wonderful.

You can find Janice’s new book A Paris Year here. Her previous book, Paris Letters here and if you find yourself needing even more joie de vivre, subscribe to her Paris Letters mail service and receive a Parisian note from Janice via the postal service once a month.

The April 2016 edition of Paris Letters

Next time on the blog, we are tackling the city of Seattle and the search for Great-Grandma Mabel’s doughnut shop. Did we find it? Did we find it? Stay tuned!

Mabel in the Market: The Search for a 1920s Doughnut Shop

Somewhere between the 1920’s and the 1930’s my great-grandmother Mabel had a doughnut shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. This has been family lore for generations but like other interesting tidbits that lurk around the ancestry closet… a New York City Rockette, an indentured servant, a lost family fortune… there isn’t a lot of information or validation to support this entrepreneurial endeavor. But in a couple of weeks I hope to change all that.

Mabel grew up in Iowa, the youngest child of an 11 member family.  She trained to be a teacher in the rural country schools surrounding her hometown…

Mabel, aged 18 pictured in her teacher’s attire about 1905

But once she met and eventually married William Earle she gave up the teaching profession all together.

Mabel’s Wedding Portrait taken in November 1907, and a photograph of William Earle, unknown date

Earl, as she called him, was a salesman for the National Biscuit Company but he suffered from some sort of health issue that was bothered by the heat of the Iowa summers. So a few years following the birth of their only child, Phillip, they packed up and headed west in a 1917 Model T Ford towards the cool climate of Seattle.

All three of them – Mabel, Earle and Phillip, plus their belongings traveled half the width of the U.S. (over 1800 miles) in this car – the  1917 Model T Ford.

This was 1922 and my grandfather Phillip remembers sitting in the back of the Model T on top of bed rolls and tents, squished between pots and pans and spare tires. It took them 8 weeks to get to Seattle where they eventually settled into the Capitol Hill neighborhood overlooking downtown. William Earle went to work as a foreman at a biscuit cookie factory.  Presumably this would be the time period that Mabel also went to work – in her doughnut shop in the bustling big city market. By 1940 Mabel and Earle would say goodbye to the city sweet treat businesses of factory and farm market to take on country life once again in a move out to the far suburbs to pursue dairy farming. That put an end to the doughnuts at least in the professional sense.

Mabel’s poem to her granddaughter on her 5th birthday written in 1947.

Mabel was a very creative lady – a clever writer, a sketch artist and a baker. We have a few of her recipes in the family cookbooks but no mention of any prized doughnuts and no mention of any experiences running a business at Pike Place Market, which makes for an interesting little mystery.

Depression era photo of Pike Place Market chicken vendors. Photo courtesy of pauldorpat.com and the Seattle Public Library.

 

What must have it been like to be a  female entrepreneur in the early decades of the 20th century? Especially as a newcomer in a much bigger, more metropolitan city and with no professional experience to bolster her confidence? How did a country school teacher become a city doughnut maker? What made her start and ultimately what made her stop? Did she do it by herself or have a partner? How big was her space? What did it look like? What were her hours and how many doughnuts did she make in a day? And maybe most importantly, why doughnuts?!

Pike Place Market first opened in 1907 and quickly became a cross-cultural beehive of people and products offering everything from fresh fish to flowers, art to textiles and practically everything inbetween.  You can feel the excitement in this 1914 ad from the Seattle Star as the market gained momentum…

Advertisement from The Seattle Star April 17, 1914. Photo courtesy of

By the 1930’s, when Mabel was making doughnuts, the market was bursting and bustling with success and sales. There was a sizzle in the air of possibility and potential that must have felt catching and all-consuming. When I head out to Seattle in the middle of June I hope to answer all the questions raised about Mabel and her doughnut endeavor. I hope to be able to walk in her shoes for a time and learn more about what must have been one of the most interesting and intriguing periods of her life. Perhaps a doughnut recipe or two will even be discovered!

Stay tuned for more on this front as I report directly from the Market mid-month. In the meantime, cheers to mysterious Mabel and her doughnuts. Happy National Doughnut Day!

How Many People Does It Take to Translate a Mug?

The title of this post makes it sound like a bad joke is on its way. But in all seriousness this is a real question we are trying to answer here in the Vintage Kitchen. The mug in need of a language lesson is this one…

a 1950’s era Chinese covered mug made by the Peacock Enamelware Factory in Tianjin, China.  With its cute button top style lid, aged patina, classic red, white and blue colors and the lettering of that faraway land it has all the potential of becoming a fully functional exotic storage tin for tea, spices or other little kitchen sundries in need of corralling.

But before it becomes one of the items listed for sale in the Vintage Kitchen shop, some mysteries need to be solved. First and foremost is the obvious one…what exactly is that jaunty little message written across the front? Could it be something cheery like Have A Great Day!? Or could it be something promotional like Eat at Al’s Pancake World? Or could it be something deeper and more meaningful like a message relative to Asian pop-culture or 1950’s history?

Once we find out that info, then we’ll be able to answer our second question… what was this mug used for and how? Was it a vessel for hot tea, or noodle soup or fried rice? Maybe all three! Was it part of the general household serving brigade or did it carry on-the-go lunch for a factory worker or a shopkeeper or a government aide with a message to share?

It is very unusual to see vintage enamelware with such writing on it. This covered mug is very, very rare so I’m thinking that the possibility of it reading Eat At Al’s is pretty unlikely. But you never know until you actually know, so we aren’t assuming anything at this point. Which takes us back to the big question…just how many people does it actually take to translate a mug?

So far that number is four. Four people and the internet.  And the message is only just partially translated.  After figuring out that it is written in Mandarin (the local dialect of Tianjin where the mug was made),  I stumbled across a vintage Chinese propaganda poster site and started noticing some similarities in letters between the posters and the mug. This would make sense for both the time period and the fact that there is no decorative imagery on the mug.  Perhaps the saying has something to do with a powerful political statement! These are some of the posters with matching letters… one has to do with the little red book about Communism,  one with leader Mao Zedong, one with birth control and one about agriculture…

Pulling out key words from some other poster translations I then started down the online-dictionary translation road and began matching up American words with Mandarin characters.  Like any language where one word could have several meanings this wasn’t the easiest route but at least I was getting somewhat in the neighborhood of possible translations. Also I was working with an American keyboard so I couldn’t type in any Mandarin characters. It was trial and error guessing at English words to see what kind of  similar Chinese characters they would produce.

A most helpful breakthrough came when Sing in Seattle and her brother sent back a few possible suggestions regarding what they could make of the translation… the words ADVANCED PRODUCTION and the word PRIZE. Maybe this mug was an award given for achievement or some sort of recognition like employee of the month! With possibilities ranging from Eat At Al’s to communist propaganda to good-job accolades, the mystery of this mug was getting more intriguing by the minute. Determined to be able to tell the proper true story of this vintage marvel for a future buyer, I was completely committed by this point on solving the puzzle.

Next came a paper diagram so that I could keep track of all the word possibilities and see if a general theme or idea would begin to emerge…

Working around the ADVANCED PRODUCTION  and PRIZE words I began doing searches for any word that could be remotely associated – factory, assembly, worker, champion, reward, office, competition, building, community, win, made, propel, leader, team, unite, etc etc etc. Over the course of two weeks, every time I thought of a new word that might be appropriate I’d consult the dictionary and see if I had a character match. Little by little, words started getting paired up. As of today this is what I have deciphered so far line by line… (The underlines are words that I have yet to figure out. In parenthesis are other possible translations that may be helpful or may be the actual verbiage in relation to the overall sentiment).

First ____  Makes ____       {related words/themes from this line include: living, livelihood, give rise too, birth, life}

Prize  {reward, given for victory}

Burning Culture 1st ____ ____ 2nd ____ _____  {collectivization, work, worker, skill, profession, individual}

Could it have something to do with a worker’s union? Or a denouncement of non-communist ideaology? Could it be a call to action towards creating a better life or a better community? Could it be the Keep Calm and Carry On mantra of  mid 20th century China or the more wordy motivational version of our contemporary one-liner Hustle? In 1940’s Tianjin, Chinese citizens were trying to take back their marketplace from foreign residents who had set up competing concessions within the city. Tianjin is also the 6th largest city in China and has long been prized for being an innovative hub for trade and finance and an important power player in the country’s economic health. So perhaps this mug’s message could have been a local rally cry for national pride and patriotism. Oh the possibilities!

This week I reached out to two new people for possible translation – one a Chinese language school and the other a collector of Chinese propaganda. But in publishing this post I’m also reaching out to you for your helpful translation skills. If you know any amount of Mandarin or are a student of Chinese history please comment below with your thoughts and translation suggestions. Together, we’ll see if we can shed true light on this mysterious little mug yet. Stay tuned for info (hopefully) coming soon!

Anxious to see what we found out about this little mug. Read PART TWO of the story here!

Suzy Snowflake and the Marshmallow World

Washington DC, 1922

Washington DC, 1922

How very exciting this week has been for snow lovers around the U.S.! With all this winter white floating and flying around the country, February is chalking itself up to be one of prettiest winter months on record. Sadly there has been no snowy weather to report from Ms. Jeannie’s city but that’s okay because today snow scenes are not hard to come by as we travel back in time to some of the biggest snowstorms of the 19th and 20th centuries.

This post is all about the beauty of the blizzard as experienced from all sides of the States, north to south, east to west. We are also introducing two new (but actually old) snow songs that every once in a while get lumped into Christmas song rotation but actually have nothing to do with the holiday itself. Instead, these two whimsical melodies express all the hap-hap-happy joy found in a good day of snow.  So grab your mug of hot chocolate, turn up the volume and enjoy the snowstorms to come…

Suzy Snowflake debuted in 1951 and quickly became a popular hit for Rosemary Clooney for the next three decades.

New York City circa 1917

New York City, 1917

 

Boston circa 1875

Boston, 1875

 

Detroit circa early 1900's

Detroit,  early 1900’s

 

snow-1950s

Possibly this is Suzy Snowflake herself circa 1963!

 

New York City, 1892

New York City, 1892

 

Minnesota, 1940's

Minnesota, 1940’s

 

Kentucky

Kentucky Mountains – early 19th century

 

Chicago 1956

Chicago, 1956

 

Eagle River, Wisconsin, 1911

Eagle River, Wisconsin, 1911

 

Belfast Maine, 1952

Belfast, Maine, 1952

 

Chicago snowplows, 1908

Chicago, 1908

 

New Jersey, 1926

New Jersey, 1926

 

snow_nyc1905

New York City, 1905

 

Seattle 1916

Seattle, 1916

 

Washington DC, 1922

Washington DC, 1922

 

Mckenzie Pass, Oregon, 1929

Mckenzie Pass, Oregon, 1929

 

Connecticut, 1888

Connecticut, 1888

 

It’s A Marshmallow World was first recorded in 1949 and was performed by Bing Crosby. This version (Ms. Jeannie’s favorite!) by Brenda Lee debuted in 1964.

Wisconsin, 1925

Wisconsin, 1925

 

Vermont, 1940

Vermont, 1940

 

Ohio 1952

Ohio 1952

 

Colorado, 1906

Colorado, 1906

 

1950's

1950’s

 

Alaska, 1910

Alaska, 1910

 

Tennessee 1918

Tennessee 1918

 

Buffalo, New York 1977

Buffalo, New York 1977

 

San Francisco, CA 1887

San Francisco, CA 1887

 

Harrisburg, PA circa early 1940's

Harrisburg, PA circa early 1940’s

Cheers to happy snowmen and winter site-seers! May your snow day, however you are experiencing it, be merry and bright!

All photos courtesy of pinterest and ebay. Click on each for more detailed info. 

A Trip Around China with Fishs Eddy: Discussing Dishes and Design with Julie

It’s unusual for things to stick around New York City. In a place that’s constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly striving to be the best and the boldest, it is understandable that the pressure is great. The city, at most, is a complicated love affair offering you treasures in the form of new favorites…restaurants, boutiques, coffee houses, galleries, apartments, friends, jobs… you lose your heart, you fall in love, you grow to need them and then one day they are gone.  It’s life lived bittersweet, but in an environment that constantly strives to out do itself, it’s to be expected. To Ms. Jeannie, that’s what makes the city wonderful. It’s addictive and adventurous and mysterious. It’s here one minute and  gone the next. But every once in awhile you get lucky, the city gods smile upon you,  and one of your favorites winds up sticking around for many, many years and many more beyond that.

Such is the case with the whimsical vintage china and kitchen shop, Fishs Eddy, located at Broadway and 19th street.  First opened in the mid-1980’s by Julie and her husband, Dave, Ms. Jeannie first discovered it thanks to her brother, who had purchased a vintage Howard Johnson’s creamer there, and then went about telling all of New York how wonderful of a place it was. Like her brother, Ms. Jeannie was smitten right away. Having just moved back to the city,  from Seattle, it reminded her a bit of the market stalls in Pike Place, where everything was a feast for your eyes  in that simple, unearthed presentation way that spoke a straightforward this-is-what-I-offer language. It also reminded her a bit of the one day sample sales, she had just  started frequenting with her girlfriends. These were sort of “secret” sample sales where you had to be on “the list” and show up to a hush-hush location where designers opened trunks of clothes in near empty buildings and let you rummage through one of a kind fashions that were just retired from the runway or design studio.  Of course these were deeply discounted clothes in waif sizes but you couldn’t help but feel like an adventurer among all those fabrics and that you being offered something rare and unusual.

That’s exactly what Ms. Jeannie felt when visiting Fishs Eddy for the first time. It was exhilarating.   Barrels of retro plates and cups, bins of mismatched silverware, shelves and cabinets of affordably priced pitchers and platters, cups and glassware. And then there was their sense of humor, their quirky signs, their whimsical displays. It was all perfection right from the very beginning.

So how does one such store manage to make it in one of the toughest cities in the world for more than 25 years? Clearly it’s good business practices, but also there’s more to it then just operating the nuts and bolts of every day. Ms. Jeannie caught up with Julie to discuss all aspects of selling china in New York City. Here’s what she had to say…

Fishs Eddy in NYC. Photo courtesy of shopikon.com

Fishs Eddy in NYC. Photo courtesy of shopikon.com

Ms Jeannie: Where did your love of china and glassware begin?

Julie: After college I moved in on west 15th street. Dave was working at his cousin’s shop called the Wooden Indian. It was this quirky little store at the end of the block, they sold restaurant glassware and some dishes, along with a lot of peculiar stuff. It was a fixture in the West Village and a lot of cool artists and locals shopped there. Dave was working behind the counter, and well, the rest is history. I had graduated from Syracuse University and knew a little about Syracuse China-a major American manufacture of restaurant ware located near the campus. Dave knew a lot about restaurant dishes and glasses. He also knew how to run a shop. So he left his job and we opened our own store. The more we went out searching for dishes and glasses, the more we learned about these incredible factories and the manufacturing process and the wonderful people behind it.

Syracuse china marks from the 1890's -2009

Syracuse china marks from the 1890’s -2009

MJ: How did the Fishs Eddy concept come about to begin with? If I understand correctly, Fishs Eddy started with your barn discovery of old restaurant ware back in the 1980’s. Did you know that you were specifically looking for dishes that day or did it just happen to work out that way? If you had stumbled upon a barn full of old lamps do you think you would have then been in the vintage lamp/lighting business?!

J: Well we wouldn’t ever sell lamps because chances are, for us at least, if its something that has to be plugged in, it won’t work! But back at the shop we were already selling vintage restaurant china and glassware -because both Dave and I shared a passion for that kind of stuff. So we were searching for dishes when we stumbled upon that barn filled with “ware.” The thing is, we were always picking up odds and end, finding a dozen of anything would be a big deal…and here was a whole barn filled!

Fishs Eddy in the early years. Photo courtesy of the Fishs Eddy blog, Table of Content. Click the picture to read more...

Fishs Eddy in the early years. Photo courtesy of the Fishs Eddy blog, Table of Content. Click the picture to read more…

MJ: Did you grow up in New York? Why did you decide to open your first store location in the city as opposed to the suburbs or surrounding boroughs?
J: I grew up in Staten Island. I love art and dragged my father into the city any chance I could get to take me to museums. I always knew I would do something in the city. But I thought I would be a painter, I didn’t think I would have a business. It all worked out.

MJ: When you opened up shop in 1986, did you find that people got the mix and match concept right away or did you have to educate them about all the whimsical possibilities?

J: It’s funny how it all happened because it didn’t happen by design. Many many years ago we were hauling endless bushels of dishware out of the basements of the restaurant suppliers down in the Bowery. In those days the Bowery was the restaurant supply district. Those bushels we were hauling were filled with mixed pieces. It’s not like there were sets of anything. It was all obsolete cups and sugar bowls and mugs and plates. When we displayed these dishes in the store everything looked great together, even though nothing matched as a set. We merchandised our dishes the way were finding it, massed out in those basements. It was the best suggestive selling we could have ever done. People were excited that the common denominator was the great restaurant quality and they felt comfortable putting mixed patterns together to create something very unique. I have to say without sounding too presumptuous, I do believe Fishs Eddy was at the forefront of that whole approach to table top.

A "traditional" Fishs Eddy store display. Look at all those possibilities! Photo via flickr.

A “traditional” Fishs Eddy store display. Look at all those possibilities! Photo via flickr.

Crates and barrels and baskets all full. How could you not find at least one treasure in all of this?! Photo courtesy of timeout.com

Crates and barrels and baskets all full. How could you not find at least one treasure in all of this?! Photo courtesy of timeout.com

MJ: I was first introduced to Fishs Eddy through my brother who had bought a vintage Howard Johnson’s creamer from you guys. That was was 20 years ago and I still think about that creamer! Is there one item like that from the early days that brings back a sense of nostalgia for you?

Ms. Jeannie's brother purchased ne similiar to this one which is available online at fishseddy.com

Ms. Jeannie’s brother purchased one similar to this one which is available online at fishseddy.com (click the photo for info)

J: Hmmmm that’s a hard question because there are so many. The one pattern that I get very nostalgic for are these fantastic little cups made for the La Fonda Del Sol restaurant in the city. They were designed by Alexander Girard and had a fabulous design that was so 50’s and strikingly modern. The best part is that we’re working with the Girard family and bringing those dishes back! I still can’t get over that we’re producing a pattern that we found sitting in a basement 25 years ago, and who knows how long they were sitting there before we rescued them!

Alexander Girard (1907-1993) is an American born designer that studied in Italy.

Alexander Girard (1907-1993) is an American born designer who studied in Italy. He is most known for his textile designs for Herman Miller, but in addition, he designed the visual concept of the original La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York, circa 1960.  Pictures (clockwise top left): (1) the original menu designed by Girard for the La Fonda Del Sol restaurant, 1960.  (2) Portrait of Girard. (3) Porcelain plates designed by Girard now available at various museums. (4) The original La Fonda Del del Sol Restaurant, 1960. All photos via pinterest.

MJ:  One of the most fun things about visiting Fishs Eddy is your store displays – with the old crates and big bins of bits and pieces, it makes everything feel like a constant discovery. Like we’ve unearthed a treasure that you might not even know you had. That’s great design! How do you come up with your display concepts?

Crate full of mix and matches! Photo courtesy of absolutelynothingtowear.com

Crate full of mix and matches! Photo courtesy of absolutelynothingtowear.com

Even the cardboard boxes seem to fit right in! Photo by Heather Bullard.

Even the cardboard boxes seem to fit right in! Photo by Heather Bullard.

Quirky window displays. The wedding dress is made entirely out of spoons!

Quirky window displays. The wedding dress is made entirely out of spoons!

J: I tell our visual people that if it looks as though they spent any time at all thinking and strategizing about how a display looks, then the display is going in the wrong direction. We aren’t decorative and we aren’t “fluffy.” Every fixture in the store has a purpose, opposed to other stores that put random and useless props out to set a mood. Our dishes and glasses are what sets the mood and I think that kind of straight forward merchandising gives customers a lot of credit. People are very creative if you give them a chance.

MJ: Design-wise, who or what inspires you?

J; Without a doubt, Todd Oldham! We approached Todd a few years ago thinking this guy is never going to call us back…but he did! Todd is truly a talented and brilliant designer, watching him in action is awe-inspiring. We’ll be talking about how to lay out a graphic or something like that, and Todd will just see something that is totally unexpected, but it’s always right!

Todd Oldham (1961 - ) is an American designer with talents in a multitude of creative design fields including furniture, clothing and merchandising. Photo courtesy of poptower.com

Todd Oldham (1961 – ) is an American designer with talents in a multitude of creative design fields including furniture, clothing and merchandising. Photo courtesy of poptower.com

But what inspires me even more is that Todd is most unpretentious, giving and wonderful person ever! His partner Tony is the same way. Todd overseas the Charley Harper estate and could have given that design to anyone for dishware. God knows a lot of people would have killed for it. But he trusted this small business to do the best quality. He doesn’t make decisions based on how much money he could make. I‘m inspired by Todd as a designer, and just as much for the person that he is. How many people can you say that about?

A sampling of the Todd Oldham + Charley Harper collection for Fishs Eddy. clockwise top left: (1) Cardinal dinner plate (2) Green Jay Placemat (3) Eskimo Curlew Tray (4) Western Tanager Coaster. All items avaiable at fishseddy.com

A sampling of the Todd Oldham + Charley Harper collection for Fishs Eddy. Clockwise from top left: (1) Cardinal dinner plate (2) Green Jay Placemat (3) Eskimo Curlew Tray (4) Western Tanager Coaster. All items available at fishseddy.com

MJ: What is the most exciting item you ever discovered on your buying sprees and where was it from?

J: We’ve discovered a lot of things. But I have to say one of the most exciting pieces that we’ve ever come across was this very large punch bowl from the 21 Club in NYC. The 21 Club was a speak-easy and I always think about how that bowl was probably made for some kind of spiked punch!

Side note: To see a fun quick little video of all the “hidden” doors, vaults and prohibition- era trickery inside the 21 Club click here.

The 21 Club in Manhattan - now over 80 years old!

The 21 Club in Manhattan – now over 80 years old!

MJ: Is there a particular pattern or brand that creates a frenzy among Fishs Eddy customers?

J: Customers really love our Charley Harper dishes that Todd designed. They also love some of the crazy one-offs that we mange to get away with, like a little tray that’s Obama’s birth certificate! That was a frenzy because it came out around election time.

The Obama Birther Certificate Tray exclusively from Fishs Eddy.

The Obama Birther Certificate Tray exclusively from Fishs Eddy.

MJ: After 25 years in the business, do you think you have seen it all when it comes to china patterns? Is there a holy grail of patterns that you are anticipating?

J: Haha….a holy grail of patterns? I love anything that was done in a spray mist pattern. That was popular in the 50’s, so I guess if I found a barn filled with that stuff I would start worshiping. And trust me, it takes a lot to get me to worship!

MJ: What’s one of the best customer stories you can recall?

J: One of my favorite stories is when a customer took a photograph of the Fishs Eddy sign on the highway on route 17. They sent the photo to us and said “did you know they name a town after your store?” That town was founded about three hundred years before we were!

Ms. Jeannie consulted her 1943 vintage atlas and was thrilled to see that Fishs Eddy was listed on the map!

Ms. Jeannie consulted her 1943 vintage atlas and was thrilled to see that Fishs Eddy, New York  was listed on the map! In 1943, it had a population of 488, in case you were wondering!

It's located in the southern part of the state, right in the crook of Catskill country.

It’s located in the southern part of the state, right in the crook of Catskill country.

MJ: I absolutely love antique ironstone pottery and get so excited when I come across a piece. The older, more aged and imperfect looking the better – if it has a crack or a chip it is absolutely perfect! What sort of pieces or brands get you so excited like this?

Ms. Jeannie's most beloved ironstone pottery platter dating to 1850.

Ms. Jeannie’s most beloved ironstone pottery platter dating to 1850.

J: I love any dishes that have the original guideline markings under the glaze. There was this guy named Ray who worked forever at Shenango China factory and he signed off on all the sample plates. So we have lots of these plates with Ray’s signature. He even doodled on some of them!

Julie's favorites! This one is a Pottsville Club Sample Plate (click for more info)

Julie’s favorites! This one is a Pottsville Club Sample Plate (click for more info)

Isbell's Picadilly Restaurant Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click more more info)

Isbell’s Picadilly Restaurant Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

Colonial Hotel Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

Colonial Hotel Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

MJ: What is your most favorite piece, or collection, in the shop right now?

J: Right now at this very minute I love this funny little pattern we did with the winner of our annual design competition at Pratt Institute. We’ve been doing this competition for several years now and some of my favorite patterns have come out of it. I love student work because it’s so unfettered. Last year the theme of the competition was politics. I did get a lot of elephants and donkeys but this one student submitted a Teddy Roosevelt pattern that’s totally adorable. I was thinking, where else would you get Teddy Roosevelt dishes other than Fishs Eddy??? And, we had it made in America because of course, you can’t outsource TR! It just makes me happy to look at!

The Teddy Roosevelt Collection available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

The Teddy Roosevelt Collection available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

MJ: Is it ever nerve-wracking to be around so many fragile things?

J: We’ve broken some pieces of our collection that, after the damage, I just have to go and hide under a rock for a few hours -but at the end of the day, they are dishes.

So many fragiles! Photo by Heather via pinterest

So many fragiles! Photo by Heather Bullard via pinterest

MJ: I saw your recent blog post about Stanley Tucci stopping by for a book signing (very cool!), do you have a big celebrity clientele? And have you, yourself, been star-struck by anyone that’s visited the store?

Stanley Tucci's new cookbook

Stanley Tucci’s new cookbook

Stanley Tucci signing books at Fishs Eddy. Photo courtesy of the Fishes Eddy blog, Table of Content.

Stanley Tucci signing books at Fishs Eddy. Photo courtesy of the Fishes Eddy blog, Table of Content.

J: We do get a lot of celebrities. The one person I might have frozen in star “struckenness” is Bill Clinton, who came in a few months ago while I was out to lunch, of course.

Julie didn't miss out on meeting Stanley! There she is (in the glasses). Photo

Julie didn’t miss out on meeting Stanley! There she is (in the glasses). Photo courtesy of the Fishs Eddy blog, Table of Content. Click on the picture to read more about the event.

 MJ: If you could sit down to luncheon with anyone famous, alive or dead, who would you chose? And what would your place settings look like? 

J: Gloria Steinem is one person. I sat a few rows behind her once when I went to Carnegie Hall with my father.   I only watched her for the entire concert. Anyone who speaks up for gender equality is someone I want to have lunch with. And then there’s Hank Williams because I love county music. I know, I’m a big walking conflict of interest because it’s not like county music preaches gender equality.

Julie's lunch companions. Gloria Steinam is an American journalist, activist, feminist and leader of the women's liberation movement in the 1960's and 1970's. Hank Williams (1923-1953) was a highly influential American country music artist.

Julie’s lunch companions. Ms. Jeannie bets there would be some interesting conversations going on between these two over lunch!  Gloria Steinem is an American journalist, activist, feminist and was the leader of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hank Williams (1923-1953) was a highly influential American country music singer-songwriter.

MJ: Can you name some restaurants or hotels that have utilized your food service supply line?

J: Marcus Samelsons Red Rooster, Joseph Leonard, Perla, Prune, Maialino, La Bernadine….too many to name!

Red Rooster Harlem -  American comfort food cuisine - between 125th and 126th Streets (click for their menu)

Red Rooster Harlem – American comfort food cuisine – between 125th and 126th Streets (click for their menu). Photo via flickr.

Joseph-Leonard American Restaurant  and Bar in the West Village - 170 Waverly Place. Click for menu. Photo by Daniel Krieger.

Joseph-Leonard American Restaurant and Bar in the West Village – 170 Waverly Place. Click for menu. Photo by Daniel Krieger.

Perla  - a rustic Italian restaurant at 24 Minetta Lane in the West Village. (Click photo for menu). Photograph courtesy of roundpulse.com

Perla – a rustic Italian restaurant at 24 Minetta Lane in the West Village. (Click photo for menu). Photograph courtesy of roundpulse.com

Prune - American homecooking with mulit-cultural influences. Located at 54 East 1st Street (click photo for menu).

Prune – American homecooking with multi-cultural influences. Located at 54 East 1st Street (click photo for menu).

Maialino - A Roman trattoria located at 2 Lexington Avenue. (Click photo for menu). Photo courtesy of youropi.com

Maialino – A Roman trattoria located at 2 Lexington Avenue. (Click photo for menu). Photo courtesy of youropi.com

Le Bernardin - considered to be one of the best seafood restaurnts in all of Nyc. Located at 155 West 51st Street. Click photo for menu. Photograph courtesy of tripandtravelblog.com

Le Bernadine – considered to be one of the best seafood restaurants in all of NYC. Located at 155 West 51st Street. Click photo for menu. Photograph courtesy of tripandtravelblog.com

MJ: If one of our readers was visiting NYC for the first time and you were their tour guide, what five places would you take them and why?

J: I would take them to my house, because I have the best view of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty, and a collection of paintings that I love to show off. I would take them to Central Park, the MoMa, the lower east side, Eatly, and we would walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Why do I only get five places?

Julie's New York tour...clockwise from top left (1) Central Park, photograph by zenzphotography (2) The Museuem of Modern Art (MoMA), painting by Gwen Meyerson

Julie’s New York tour…clockwise from top left (1) Central Park, photograph by zenzphotography (2) The Museuem of Modern Art (MoMA), painting by Gwen Meyerson (3) NY’s Lower East Side at night, photography courtesy of nydigest (4) The Brooklyn Bridge, water color painting by merlyna (5) Eatly Italian Marketplace, photography courtesy of paloma81.blogspot

And of course, you’d have to visit Fishs Eddy:)  To keep up with Julie via her blog, click here. She’s a hilarious writer with lots of fun stories! If you do not live in the New York area, have no fear – you can still be charmed by FE and fill your shopping cart full via their website fishseddy.com
Cheers for being a mainstay, Fishs Eddy, and cheers again, to 25 more years in the dish business!
This interview is part of a series of interviews Ms. Jeannie has been conducting with various artists around the world, for over a year now. To read more from this series, click here.

From Our Readers: Scones, Wedding China and Homemade Jam

The other day when Ms. Jeannie went over the year in review, she mentioned making a batch of cinnamon-nutmeg scones. If you don’t recall, here is what they looked like:

Scones, antique ironstone and vintage Royal Jackson china.

Scones, antique ironstone and vintage Royal Jackson china.

Blog reader, Amy, wrote in to request the recipe agreeing that such a simple treat would be the perfect partner to mull over one’s thoughts with. This recipe is an easy one  and made even better by adding home made jam on top.

Ms. Jeannie’s sister, Marianne, makes AMAZING jams and jellies. Those pictured above are the latest batch she just sent. It is a happy day whenever a box of goodies arrives from her. Mr. Jeannie Ology can hardly contain himself while the box gets unwrapped. This gift box included: Blackberry, Raspberry, Orange Cranberry and Italian Plum jams (Italian plum not pictured – because it’s already been devoured!).

Each jar holds a magnificent concoction of flavors – this one is cranberry orange.

The perfect amount of jam vs. chunky fruit.

Marianne picks all the fruit herself, in the Seattle summer months (aka the non-rainy season!), and then gets to work canning away. She also makes her own labels – so cute! She was a true Martha Stewart way before anybody knew about the actual Martha.

Gorgeous jam in a gorgeous package!

Gorgeous jam in a gorgeous package!

She’s actually really crafty in all the creative areas. When Ms. Jeannie’s other sister, Christine, got married in 2010, Ms. Jeannie and Marianne put together all the floral arrangements and wedding bouquets.

Wedding flowers in route to the wedding!

Wedding flowers in route to the wedding!

Their work space for the bouquet assembly was the hotel room floor the morning of the wedding.  It was festive and fun to see a floor full of flowers.  The arrangements came together with ribbon and laughter. It was frantic but in a good way and left such an edible memory – one of her favorites of the entire wedding weekend.

wed

So, as you can see Marianne’s creativity knows no limits. From jam to floral arrangements – she’s a one woman wonder.

Back to those scones…  Ms. Jeannie recommends, that once you remove them from the oven, you should add a healthy dose of butter and jam on top of each scone while they are still warm. Hopefully you are lucky, like Ms. Jeannie and have an excellent jam source too.

Nutmeg-Scented Scones

Makes eight triangle shaped scones.

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup golden brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly grated whole nutmeg or ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg white, beaten to blend with 2 teaspoons water (for glaze)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in processor; blend 10 seconds. Using on/off turns, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add sour cream. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form. Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead 4 turns to form ball. Flatten dough to about 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut into 8 wedges. Brush with egg-white glaze; sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Transfer to baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake scones until tops are golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer scones to rack and cool slightly.

Recently, RoseMary from Shasta Lake Shop on Etsy, also wrote in about the Royal Jackson china (pictured with the scone). This is what she had to say:

“FYI The Autumn pattern was discontinued in the early 1950s. I was married in 1952 and chose it as my fine china pattern. I was devastated when in about 1953 I received a call that the pattern was being discontinued. I had just a few pieces, probably a service for 6. Replacement services were unknown at that time. It wasn’t until 50 years later that I found someone on ebay who had many of the pieces. I bought everything he had. Now I can set a table for 20+ people with all the extra serving pieces. Homer Laughlin also made a matching pattern in semi-vitreous china. Don’t know what its called or much about it but bought a set to help fill out my pattern for a while.” – RoseMary, The Shasta Lake Shop

Ms. Jeannie loves hearing stories like these! She tried to do a quick search for the Homer Laughlin pattern that RoseMary mentioned but she couldn’t come up with anything yet. If you know what the pattern name is, please write in!  This china is so pretty – Ms. Jeannie couldn’t imagine having an entire set. RoseMary is one lucky lady!

Set of 6 Royal Jackson teacups - available in Ms. Jeannie's shop.

Set of 6 Royal Jackson teacups – available in Ms. Jeannie’s shop.

When Ms. Jeannie got married she didn’t register for one specific china pattern. Instead she registered at Fishs Eddy, which is a vintage/contemporary china store in New York City.

The magical Fishs Eddy store on Broadway and 19th Street in NYC. Photo credit: David Mills.

They sell a mix-match of vintage and antique dishes mostly from old hotels and restaurants, and then they offer some unique new patterns from designers like Cynthia Rowley too. Basically every time you visit – it’s a new experience.

So Ms. Jeannie registered for a color scheme (blue and white at the time!), which meant any piece of china that fell under those two colors was a gift in the making. Some people thought Ms. Jeannie was brave for being so whimsical in giving guests the “pick whatever you like” experience – but Ms. Jeannie thought of it as an adventure. Besides – there was nothing at Fishs Eddy that she didn’t like – so how could anyone go wrong? As long as it was blue and white – it was perfect!

And as it turned out, each piece that someone chose as a wedding gift, carried with it a little bit of personality from the gift giver. So it became a great memory stacked on top of another great memory. This is the kind of stuff Ms. Jeannie loves most about china. It’s not only the beauty of the actual piece – it’s the beauty of the memory that it represents too.

A big thank you for sharing your thoughts, dear readers! Ms. Jeannie looks forward to more conversations. Until then, happy reading (and writing!).

About

Welcome to The Vintage Kitchen!

It’s the oldest room in the house, that kitchen of yours and mine. There among all the aromas of food and flowers lingers a shy, steady scent of mystery and long-ago stories. Can you smell it? If you are quiet enough you can hear it too. Those muffled whisperings… the laughter… the comfortable conversation… the clinking of dishes and glasses and silverware from the activity of all those who have come to cook in the kitchen before us.

It doesn’t matter if your kitchen is two years old or 200 years old, history comes home to eat always… every day, every meal.  From the food you purchase to the equipment you use to the methods you employ, centuries of stories have led to the meals you make everyday.

Here in The Vintage Kitchen we are on a mission to discover those fascinating details that have laid the groundwork for  what, where, why and how we cook today. Highlighting vintage culinary creativity in a variety of ways from interior design to interviews, gardening to gadgets, travel to techniques, recipes to restaurants and all those lovely china pieces in-between we discover how the past connects us to the present when it comes to the kitchen.

Hey there, I’m Katherine!

I come from a long line of interesting kitchen stories. In the early 1900’s my great-grandmother had a doughnut shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. In the mid 20th century, my grandfather fought four decades of fires in Chicago while also preparing dinner for the firehouse crew each night. In the 1980’s, my American mom made authentic multiple-course home-cooked French dinners from scratch for visiting European houseguests. A decade later, my dad taught himself how to cook by religiously reading every issue of Gourmet magazine. More stories float… my cousin was a commercial king crab fisherman in Alaska for over 20 years. My husband worked in film catering when I first met him. My sister once prepared a luncheon for President Clinton. None of these people shared a professional title in the culinary world but they all shared a passion for creativity in the kitchen which inherently came to me through the veins of my family tree.

That’s Grandpa Herbert in the top row (center) protecting lives (and appetites!) in the city of Chicago for over forty years.

In my growing up days I was a world-traveler and a kid-connoisseur of cuisines from around the globe.  I learned about history from old buildings and old bowls, from small vegetable gardens and large lengthy dinners, from food I couldn’t pronounce to places I couldn’t predict.  Monte Carlo, Morocco, Lake Geneva, the Ivory Coast of Africa – those were the places where memory began. That first burst of colorful and cultural experience when I was young led me to where I am today… here with you – a lover of history, an experimenter of creativity, a forever advocate of celebrating cultural cooking and a discoverer of new (yet old) stories surrounding everyone’s favorite room in the house.  I love behind-the-scenes conversations and old cookbooks. I love travel and art and eating outdoors.  My most ideal dinner would involve a starry sky, lots of wine and a dinner table full of companions that stretched with abundance into the small hours of the night.

With a tie of the apron strings, and a gathering of bowls and spoons, knives and cutting boards, notebooks and Noritake we are embarking on a historical adventure together through the world of kitchen curiosities. All the interesting, forgotten stories of the past come to light again here. Cheers and welcome to The Vintage Kitchen.

 

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Katherine heads the Vintage Kitchen team, but you’ll soon discover a whole cast of characters that help tell the tales surrounding the oldest room in the house.  If you have any questions about a particular post send a message here and your inquiry will be shuttled off to the appropriate person for response.

 

Please Note: All written content and photographic imagery contained within this blog are all original productions of The Vintage Kitchen unless otherwise noted.