The Summer Kitchen, by Boltlady

Reality set in when I received a copy of JWR’s novel “Patriots” from my sister. I was hooked. I could see not only the possibility, but the likelihood of what could happen. The sheer realization of how pitifully unprepared I was for any type of disaster launched me into high gear. I organized the bug-out-bags, bought the camo & the ammo, and stocked an emergency medical kit. You know the drill.
But now that the basic preparations are in place and the panic has subsided, my thoughts have turned to the retreat. What does happen when the world as we know it comes to an end? When there is no electricity and those without solar-power are long-term without any power? Well, when the MREs are long since gone and retreat life has become…well, life…, I envision spending time in my summer kitchen.

The concept of the summer kitchen literally dates back a thousand years, yet these practical outdoor kitchens are still used today all over the world. Its purpose historically was quite simple – prepare food during warmer seasons without heating up (or burning down) the house. However, for a retreat setting, you could benefit greatly by expanding its duties.

Drawing upon a number of these older ideas and uses, this new summer kitchen goes well beyond the original ‘cook-only’ area, to a multi-purpose building that includes a smokehouse, a root-cellar, and a wood shed. Because of the strategic importance of the kitchen, this should be one of the first structures built in a retreat. While our family is still praying and saving for our retreat property, the limited population in the area where we would like to buy suggests that we will purchase land without any existing buildings. Given the versatility of the Summer Kitchen, we could easily sustain ‘camp’ with it on weekends while working on the rest of the property.

Whether you’re building on a distant site, or adjacent to your existing home, careful consideration should be given to the positioning of your summer kitchen. Choose a site that will allow a cool summer breeze to pass through the kitchen, as well as carry away any smoke from the cook-stove.

The design I have determined to be best for my summer kitchen is a three-part building. The center section, which houses the kitchen facilities, is approximately 20’L x 15’W, and is flanked on the right and left by a pair of 6’ x 8’ rooms. The three sections share a common wall at the back, with the pitched (gable) roof-line over the center section rising about a foot higher than those of the end rooms. Buried directly beneath the main kitchen lies the root-cellar. The balance and form of the structure lends itself well to the retreat setting. Click here to see a drawing of this floor plan.

Materials for your Summer Kitchen should be chosen based on function – not style. Although it is often easier to scavenge wood materials, I have chosen to build my summer kitchen primarily out of masonry block. For me, masonry materials are not only durable, but simple to maintain. (Note: If you have a block manufacturing plant in your area, try contacting the manager to inquire what they do with the seconds – that is the less than perfect, but still perfectly usable blocks. You may be able to purchase these at a reduced price.)

The roof-line, composed of stout 2” x 6” trusses, rests upon the block walls. Here in the Northwest, a metal roof is a must. Metal works well to shed the often heavy snow-load in winter, and reduces the risk posed by forest fires during dry, summer months. Topping off the roof of the summer kitchen is a small cupola. While the cupola may appear as an unnecessary extravagance, its true function is realized through added ventilation of heat and smoke.

Let’s take a virtual tour. You enter through symmetrically located, 36” doors on either the front left or front right quarters of the kitchen. The large doors provide smooth access even when carrying a sizable load. Running along the entire length of the front wall, between the doors, is a 28” deep counter top. All the counter tops in the Summer Kitchen are concrete. When poured and polished, concrete counter tops are incredibly durable, surprisingly attractive, and affordable if you do it yourself. The cupboards below store pots and pans, dishes, and canning supplies.

At the far end of the counter, near the left-side door, there is a dumb waiter. This pulley-driven, counter-weighted, mini elevator lifts or lowers your canned goods, and other finished products, to and from the root-cellar for easy storage. The box, (a 32” square, 36” high) which resembles a cupboard itself, has a load capacity of 100 pounds, and is manually operated by a handle on the side.

As you step through the right side door, just to your right is a wrap-around, 28” deep counter extending to the back wall and then left approximately ten feet. Centered in the counter along the back wall is a deep, stainless steel, double sink. The sink utilizes a high arching faucet that swivels flush against the wall allowing easy access for even the largest items.

Food preparation and clean-up require an adequate water source. The water supply to the sink can be provided for in several ways. Options include gravity-fed plumbing from an external water source, or from a 55-gallon drum on a stand outside the back wall. It may even be possible to mount the tank in the rafters above the kitchen. Since the water tank is filled using a hand-crank transfer pump, the positioning of the tank is quite flexible. Hot water may also be achieved by plumbing a line from the reservoir on the wood-burning stove.

Beyond the end of the counter, in the back left corner of the main room, is the heart of the kitchen – the wood cook-stove. It is coved in masonry block to reduce the space required between it and the walls while minimizing fire hazard. (You should always follow recommended clearances when fitting your stove.)

For those of us who follow recipes with instructions like “bake at 350 degreesÀö” or “simmer over medium-heat”, cooking with wood-heat may prove to be a challenge. For this reason your choice of cook-stove is vital. One of the best stoves for a summer kitchen is the ‘Pioneer Maid’ wood burning stove available at (Situated in Amish country, Lehman’s is a fantastic resource for functional, non-electric items.) This stove is not some dainty, long-legged beauty meant to invoke nostalgic memories of yesteryear. This is the workhorse of Amish country cook-stoves. With its oversized, temperature-controlled wood box, an eleven gallon reservoir, warming oven, enameled cook-top and oven lining, and more than half of its weight made up of stainless steel, it will be the hardest worker you have come canning season. With all its amenities, yet high price, a frugal builder may spend more on this stove than the entire structure.

In the center of the kitchen you will find my beloved want-ad find – my 36” square, maple butcher’s block. This serves as the perfect prep counter. It is well-suited for butchering small livestock or dressing out an elk. For the retreat setting, or even your local gardening co-op, you should prepare for a ‘canning party’ of six or more people. By forming an assembly line of friends to complete large tasks, mundane retreat chores should become much more bearable.

Next, there are the adjacent rooms. The room to the left, nearest the stove, is firewood storage. A large sliding door gives easy access when putting up wood. It will hold two to three cords of wood, cut and stacked. When the time comes to fire-up the cook-stove, wood can be transferred to a small rack just inside the left side door of the summer kitchen.

And on the right, we have a smokehouse, in perfect company with our kitchen. When you enter the smokehouse through the insulated, sheet metal lined door, you find that the interior is very simple; a concrete slab floor with a smoke pipe in the middle, a removable workbench, a barrel of salt, and several adjustable hangers overhead. Multiple vents are designed into the soffits surrounding the smoke house. Extending four feet further right, and connected by a 6” concrete pipe, you have a 30” x 36” firebox lined with firebricks. A 24” diameter tapered concrete plug forms the lid, which forces the smoke up the pipe and into the smokehouse.

Finally, on the backside of the building you will find the access door leading down to the root cellar. The concrete stairs land in the middle of the room. One side of the cellar has a poured concrete floor. The other side remains open to the earth and is then covered with 6” of gravel. The exposed area lends coolness to the room. Along the block walls, lining the concrete foundation stands ample shelving for canned goods.

While I have included here a general idea of the design for my root cellar, the subject of root cellaring would easily fill a book. Many things must be taken into consideration regarding your particular location. Humidity, temperature, ventilation, annual rainfall, ground water, and the types of products to be stored, are all factors that influence the type of root cellar that would be best for you.

Like any aspect of preparedness, if you do not plan ahead, the logistics could be anywhere from difficult to impossible. So if you already have a retreat, I suggest building a summer kitchen. Equip it. Practice in it. Enjoy it. When you remember that God provides you with everything you need, self-sufficiency is a truly fulfilling journey.