Kitchenalia – What’s Cooking In The Kitchen?



Carlton Ware Sheep Sauce BoatUnlike other rooms, the kitchen is much more difficult to personalise. Kitchens, especially those in modern houses, tend to consist of rows of white metal appliances with wooden cupboards above.

Pictured right: Carlton Ware Sheep Mint Sauce Boat

Unlike kitchens found in older houses, or those used by our ancestors (to whom many of our modern gadgets would seem alien), kitchens nowadays are often long and narrow, so it’s difficult to squeeze in a traditional dresser, let alone an old-fashioned cooking range or even an Aga. Many people today enjoy the minimalist, almost sterile look of a modern kitchen, but some of us still crave individuality. So how do we achieve it?

If you want your kitchen to acquire a retro look, then there are thousands of items out there to accent your kitchen, from original 50s, 60s (and earlier) items of kitchenware through to streamlined 1970s, 80s, 90s and 2000s classics. With cooking being the in-thing right now, thanks to Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and co., there has been an upsurge of interest in kitchenalia. However smart a modern glass Kenwood Chefmixing bowl, plastic jug or non-stick saucepan can be, you can’t beat an earthenware bowl, blue striped Cornishware jug or maybe a seventies’ Poole casserole dish for adding a bit of warmth to your kitchen.

Pictured left: 1970s Kenwood Chef

Some people embrace the collecting fad with a passion – they collect egg cups, or cruet sets or old mugs and display them on shelves to create a focal point – while others concentrate on a few, maybe larger items; an old enamel bread bin or perhaps a colourful enamel kettle. Sometimes, these old kettles and pans aren’t suitable for use on a modern hob, but they can still make a decorative statement.

I think some of the most elegant of kitchen items are those long, tall sixties’ and seventies’ coffee pots. Many were ceramic, made by companies such as Meakin and Midwinter, while others were in subtle brushed stainless steel. The Russell Hobbs’ 3008 automatic coffee pot from the 1970s, with its wooden handle and tapered body, is still stylish today, and looks much more chic than a contemporary glass and plastic cafetiere. Other electrical items still sought after for modern kitchens include Kenwood Chef food mixers, Russell Hobbs’ stainless steel kettles and early toasters. Larger items too are collected by some people; I still use a 1960’s electric cooker manufactured by English Electric, and would never swap it for an up-to-date one. The solid doors and large, heavy grill pan are rarely found in modern cookers. Besides, the styling is much more ‘friendly’ than the flat, bland surfaces of today’s cooking appliances.

T G Green Roulette kitchen jars 1960sPictured right: 1960s T G Green Roulette Kitchen Jars

One traditional item still collected today is Cornishware, especially the blue and white striped variety. Originally made by T. G. Green, many look-a-likes appeared when other companies began copying the design after seeing how popular it had become. Fresh and summery, it is said that it gained its name after being described by a West Country salesman as reminding him of ‘blue Cornish skies and white-crested waves’. The blue and white ware was first introduced in the 1920s, and it became an immediate hit. Older or rare pieces are snapped up by today’s collectors. The company was actually based in Staffordshire, and the T. G. Green brand name is still used. In the 1950s, when British pottery design was becoming more ambitious, many designs were produced to coincide with, or were influenced by, the Festival of Britain. Often they had ‘futuristic’ designs based on atoms, or featured exotic scenes, ballet dancers or even items of furniture, such as the iconic ‘Homemaker’ range by Enid Seeley for Ridgway Poteries, which was sold exclusively through Woolworths.

Boscastle Salt PigPictured left: 1970s Boscastle Salt Pig

Another fad was to have different coloured cups and saucers (most people used cups and saucers back then, rather than mugs). By the 1960s, Midwinter, Portmeirion, Meakin and others were filling the shops with their attractive, dynamic designs. Some were stunning, and of course are the ideal kitchen collectable, as they can be regularly used, although it is best not to put them in the dishwasher, as the pattern might fade.

I have a soft spot for those ceramics made by the smaller studios, which often you never hear of unless you happen to see a ‘pottery’ sign as you pass by some narrow country lane. You can often find attractive mugs, jugs and pots which look perfect in a kitchen. In the 1960s and 70s I collected various pieces of ‘kitchen’ pottery, mainly from the West Country. One of my favourites is a painted, unglazed ‘salt pig’ from Boscastle Pottery with a delicate tree design, the shape of which resembles the pots used in kitchens centuries ago. The design technique is known as Mochaware and is created by applying ‘mocha tea’, a mix of oxides, to the wet slip. Sometimes tobacco or coffee are used instead. This results in a staining in the formation of a fern-like pattern, and no two are identical. Another absolute favourite of mine is Tintagel ware, especially the soft pink and green ‘eye’ versions, which I think are just beautiful, and the swirly deep green dragon designs.. Fruit bowls, jam pots, jugs, vases, egg cups and cheese dishes – Tintagel pottery was established in 1948, and is still made in the mystical Cornish village, where rumour has it that King Arthur once roamed. There are also those distinctive cheese dishes and other items with hand drawn characters by Toni Raymond. Toni Raymond ware first appeared in the 1950s, and in the 1960s they acquired Babbacombe Pottery. Also collectable are Szeiler animal face dripping pots, Sylvac face pots and the later attractive line of teapots made by Wade which featured various shops and buildings.

Collection of CruetsPictured right: Collection of Cruets

Cruets, jam-pots, toast racks, egg cups, sauce pots and other small items make good collectables, whether you choose just one or two to liven up your kitchen, or decide to have a larger display. Nowadays, many companies make colourful or quirky kitchen items, but it is still easy to find older pieces, or those based on traditional designs, such as beehive-shaped honey pots. Only recently, a ‘whistle’ egg cup sold for a staggering £272 on the internet, though usually old egg cups are much cheaper. Some honey pots, such as those designed by Clarice Cliff, can reach three figures, too, although most are much more affordable. Fun to collect are character egg cups featuring children’s favourites, such as Peter Rabbit or Thomas the tank engine, and these are a great collectable for a child, with many items selling at pocket money prices. More expensive kitchen collectables in clude old jelly moulds, enamel storage tins, silver spoons, copper pans and ornate fish kettles, with some items selling for three figures.

 Ridgway Homemaker plate 1950sPictured left: 1950s Ridgway Homemaker Plate

Surprisingly, plastic items are finding their fans, too. The ubiquitous Tupperware, considered so innovative in the 1950s, and which later became the star of parties up and down the country, is still sought after today. It’s said that even the Queen uses Tupperware on her breakfast table. Bakelite, another, earlier type of plastic, is collected by many, and then there are the novelty items such as the plastic mugs with moulded faces made for Cadbury’s Bournvita, plastic egg cups in the shape of chickens, Guardsmen and Little Noddy, or kitchen timers resembling fruit, animals and food items.

There are also plenty of modern items with a retro feel, such a range of exciting clocks from a company called Karlsson, which come in typical 1960s’ vivid colours and funky designs. I love their Jigsaw puzzle clock, but others, such as the cube, dice or flower are all perfect sixties flashbacks – and these clocks have a secret. You can arrange the face decorations just how you want, so even if your neighbour buys one, yours will appear different. Quirky small gadgets; potato peelers, egg whisks, vegetable brushes, apple corers and other items are filling the stores nowadays, and might well become collectables. Many are in the shape of colourful animals or birds. At the very least, they’ll brighten your kitchen. If you want just to make a design statement, then consider one of those sleek and eye-catching triangular Michael Graves Alessi kettles, or, less pricey, one of his timers or pepper mills.

Poole casserole pot 1970sFor a cheaper item of modern design it’s worth considering the Grabbit salt and pepper grinders sold through Lakeland, which are in the shape of a black or white stylised rabbit, and operated by a deft squeezing of the rabbit’s ears! Collectable one day? Who knows, but they look good even in the minimalist of kitchens.Pictured left: 1970s Poole Casserole Pot Finally, if you are looking for really practical kitchen collectables, then how about cook books? There are thousands around, so you’ll need to be selective, and one way is to concentrate on those written by ‘personality’ chefs. Interesting as well as useful, you could seek out not only Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith, but those cooks of days gone by – Philip Harben, Graham Kerr (the Galloping Gourmet) , Fanny Craddock (complete with sidekick Johnny) or even Mrs Beeton. You might be able to obtain some autographed editions, which would make them more special.

Kitchenalia is a vast subject, it covers so many different kinds of collectables. You never know what may be lurking the drawer of an old kitchen dresser. Even if it’s just an old knife with the blade worn thin by constant use, or a wooden rolling pin shiny smooth from seventy years of making pastry, think of the hundreds of meals they’ve helped prepare, all those carrots they’ve chopped and all the pies they’ve made. That’s what brings a bland kitchen to life. History – it’s what collecting is all about.

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