Saturday, April 01, 2023

Not too far from where I live historians have been fighting to preserve a sandstone house that has one of the last known outdoor kitchens in the northeast. Coincidentally to that, a friend of mine in Arizona was telling me how she had conceived, planned and built an outdoor kitchen for her home—for Pesach.

It was the easiest way, she said, to have a kosher-for-Pesach kitchen. I wondered for a moment if centuries ago those Dutch settlers were frum. Probably not, but while the motivations were different, the concepts seemed to be pretty much the same.

Start with a means of cooking

In the case of the 250-year-old Dutch Colonial structure known as the Seth House, an outdoor fireplace had been constructed using native stones. There was an oven designed within the fireplace structure. Iron hooks to hold cooking implements as well as a spit and manual rotisserie were set up. It had all the modern conveniences that any top chef of 250 years ago would need.

Of course, being constructed in the northeast, the only logical reason for constructing such a contraption would have been to utilize its “air conditioning” aspect during the warmer months. The cook would suffer less from the heat of the day, and those inside the warm house would not suffer from the added heat of an open fire. However, my Arizona friend was more concerned with the ease of keeping the area free of chometz than with the temperature of her cooking area.

She likes to do all her Pesach cooking a week ahead of time and so she is presently outdoors using a modern gas grill, the parts of which have never been touched by anything not authorized kosher for Passover, to prepare her meats (barbecue roasted chicken, slow-roasted beef, seared turkey, my mouth is watering).

She also uses the electric grill for preparing soups, vegetables and whatever else needs to be cooked. Since the cooking area for Pesach is outside, she has also designed the cement floored area with cabinets, hooks and storage for all her ingredients and other cooking needs. There is even what others might refer to as a beer fridge, but in this case it’s stocked with only kosher-for-Pesach produce and products for use during preparation and the holiday.

Given that the temperature in Arizona can get to be quite high this time of year and air conditioning is expensive, it’s quite possible that one of her secondary motivations is not that far off from those early Dutch settlers, to keep both herself and her family, dwelling inside, as comfortable as possible during the long and arduous task.

Besides, it does save time and effort in prep work knowing that there is no chometz around.

However, the outdoor kitchen soon will be retired, both from the local historic areas and from my friend’s backyard. In the case of the Seth House, its continued preservation as a landmark has proven too costly, and the debate continues over whether to use funds to keep it or allow a developer to do what he will. As to my friend’s outdoor kitchen, she has come up with a new answer to the Pesach dilemma.

On a recent visit I was curious as to why a small area next to her kitchen was covered in tin foil and plastic. She has taken what the architect designed as an open-air area to place a small table and chairs, commonly referred to as a “breakfast nook,” and converted it into her Passover kitchen. Because the area was close to the patio doors, nearly the same level of comfort could be attained both inside and out by simply keeping a door open. The indoor facility was, of course, more convenient in the long run, though there were drawbacks, especially because its proximity to her everyday kitchen could contaminate it with chometz.

She did install a separate refrigerator, stove, microwave and cabinets and had separate cooking gadgetry and storage, albeit in a smaller area. While local historians will soon face the possibility of mourning the loss of the example of the colonial outdoor kitchen, I think there’s something to be mourned as well when my friend decided to move her cooking indoors.

Of course, I didn’t know what difficulties she had to face and solve with this decision, but somehow, maybe because of the romantic that lurks deep within me, Passover meals being cooked, the real old-fashioned way, outdoors, under the sky, be it night or day, must have been something really special.

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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