Eras and Moments in Pantry History
During Medieval England terms like “larder” (from meat stored in crocks of rendered lard) and “buttery” (storerooms for large barrels or “butts” of beer and ale and other provisions) and “pantry” (derived from the Latin word for bread, panis) came into use to describe these domestic spaces.
17th & 18th century ~ Colonists in New England incorporate small northern rooms off of kitchens for food storage called the buttery (often shortened to “butt’ry”).
1786 ~ The original buttery built in the Theron Boyd homestead in Hartford, Vermont is preserved today and may well be America’s oldest intact pantry.
1800s (especially 1850-1900) ~ The era of the “butler’s pantry” begins in England and America: a small pantry between kitchen and dining room where china and silver were stored and meals were plated and served (often by a butler or household staff). First essentials of great estate homes, later they could also be found in moderate middle class homes.
1857 ~ Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet writes in The Practical Housekeeper, “Let there be a place for every article, and when not in use let every article be in its place.”
1869 ~ Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe write their seminal The American Woman’s Home promoting the idea of bringing the pantry into the kitchen by adding more kitchen cupboards and shelves. However, the idea doesn’t take hold for almost another century.
Circa 1850-1886 ~ The reclusive Emily Dickinson often writes poems from her pantry in Amherst, MA as her cousin Louise Norcross later described: “I know (she) wrote most emphatic things in the pantry, so cool, so quiet, while she skimmed the milk; because I sat on the footstool behind the door, in delight, as she read them to me.”
1876 ~ Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer begins by Tom paying penance for his pantry raid on Aunt Polly’s jam by having to whitewash her fence. [Pantry raids were often written about or illustrated in children’s literature.]
1885 ~ Almanzo Wilder builds a remarkable farmhouse pantry in their new home in DeSmet, South Dakota for his bride Laura Ingalls which she sees for the first time on their wedding day (and later describes in great detail in the last chapter of her book, These Happy Golden Years).
1896 ~ The Boston Cooking-School Magazine is founded (later American Cookery), part of the influential home economics movement that helped shaped American housewifery and kitchen design.
Circa 1900 ~ The invention of the Hoosier cabinet in New Castle, Indiana was often billed as a pantry and kitchen in one and went on to become an enduring icon in American kitchens.
World Wars ~ The war effort at home during both World Wars promotes canning from the home kitchen as a patriotic duty.
1920s - 30s ~ The increasingly popular “breakfast nook” begins to displace pantries in kitchen design as the pantry starts to merge with the kitchen by means of extended cabinetry and cupboards.
1928 ~ Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings writes in Cross Creek Cookery about her Florida farmhouse: “I always keep on hand in the pantry cans of sliced or halves of peaches, and a good shortcake may be made on a moment’s notice.”
1950s ~ With an increase in the prepared foods for the housewife following World War II, and with better refrigeration and freezers, the pantry becomes all but obsolete in American homes except in farmhouse kitchens.
1960s ~ Modern pantries become floor-to-ceiling cabinets in American kitchen design.
1990s ~ A pantry revival in American homes is driven by a preference for separate food or dish storage and an emergent nostalgic appreciation of this valuable kitchen space.
2005 ~ In a survey by the National Association of Home Builders, walk-in pantries are the most requested kitchen feature in American homes.
© Catherine Pond