The Kitchen Pantry: A Brief History

Regardless of your kitchen size you most likely have a pantry. This might be as small as a shelf in a cupboard or as large as a walk-in closet. It is where we keep the foods and supplies used most often. The history of the pantry, or kitchen storage, is an interesting reflection of what was going on at the time socially, economically and architecturally.

The word “pantry” comes from the Old French word “paneterie” meaning from “pain”, the French word for bread. In medieval times food and supplies were stored in specific rooms: meats were stored in a larder, alcohol stored in the buttery and bread was stored in the pantry.

The butler’s pantry was traditionally used to store silver, serving pieces and other kitchen related items. Because the silver was kept under lock and key in the butler’s pantry the butler would actually sleep in the pantry to guard against thievery. Nowadays, modern homes have butler’s pantries usually located off the kitchen or between the kitchen and the formal dining room. Typically you will find countertop space to rest food or to prepare the dishware prior to serving.

In pre-war America smaller homes did not have closets, cabinets or pantries for food and kitchen storage. In the early 1900’s the Hoosier Cabinet, made by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company in Indiana, was created to be an all-in-one pantry and kitchen for the new American home. Most Hoosier Cabinets stood about six feet high, four feet wide and about two feet deep – making it a perfect size for small kitchens. The cabinet was typically sold with built in storage bins and containers for everyday items like flour, sugar, coffee, tea and household spices. Variations of this cabinet can still be found today on sites like Ebay.

In Japan the “Mizuya Tansu” cabinet was created for kitchens. Similar to the Hoosier Cabinet, the tansu had various compartments and work surfaces, and often took advantage of vertical space to make the kitchen more functional. Read more about the elaborate tansu history here.

Images, left to right:

Kitchen Pantry from Kitchen Bath Ideas

Hoosier Cabinet: $995 on Ebay

Japanese Kyoto Mizuya Kitchen Tansu: $1650 on Ebay

For a more comprehensive look at the humble pantry, check out “The Pantry: It’s History and Modern Uses” by Catherine Seiberling Pond

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