This Awesome Grandma Has Cooked In Her “Forever Kitchen” For 55 Years
Welcome to Forever Kitchens, a mini series in which we highlight home cooks who have found the kitchens they’ll cook in for, well, ever, they hope.
Name: Joan Tanner
Location: Santa Barbara, California
How long have you cooked in this kitchen? 55 years (since 1965)
How many people regularly eat together in your kitchen? One
Joan Tanner’s Forever Kitchen is modest in size. It’s functional with a system of organized chaos. And it’s packed with mini collections of various treasures — including vintage Japanese pottery, Le Creuset pots and pans given to her on her wedding day more than 60 years ago, potted plants (which she waters with a sea shell-shaped teapot), stacks of plastic tabs saved from bags of sandwich bread, and random sticky notes (“GET GIN!”). See, Joan is a prolific artist (she has a studio on the property for her large sculptural installations) and nothing is safe from her attuned, curious, collector mindset.
The wooden ceilings (original to the 1920s house) and white walls make a perfect backdrop for her creative approach to living, cooking, and gathering (pre-coronavirus). Curious what it’s like to live with and cook in one space for such a long time, we caught up with Joan to talk about how it’s changed over time, her entertaining style, her oval-shaped island, and more.
Did you know this would be your forever kitchen when you originally moved in?
I really thought [my late husband] Jim was wrong for wanting to live here; I thought we wouldn’t stay in California. I actually have a huge fondness for Chicago and the Midwest where I grew up and my daughter and grandchildren now live. I thought we’d end up back out there.
How much, if at all, has the space changed over the years?
The kitchen has had a few lives. The cabinets are original, the pine counter is the same, there are redwood shelves, and a dry cupboard (there are slats to keep the air moving). There was also a walk-in cupboard, which we got rid of. And we’ve painted, too.
What was the biggest indulgence or splurge in your kitchen?
Putting up a beautiful wood-paneled ceiling.
Did you entertain much in here back in the day?
We used to host Thanksgiving for 30 people the first 10 to 15 years we were here. I remember being at the stove, one early year, I was making gravy like I do. I had a little flour and broth mixture for starting my roux, I was scraping the bits, all the burned stuff. I was carefully pouring the broth and the flour mixture together slowly … and it was 80 degrees out! Remember I’m from the Midwest, so this felt like I was in an alien place. All these Californians had a sentimental story and I thought: This is it, I can’t keep doing this.
Tell us about raising your daughter in here.
We always did screwball things with my daughter, Laura. When she was little, she would be everywhere in this kitchen and I don’t remember being panicked about it, but I was fairly orderly. I would put stuff on the floor for her to play with. When she got a little older, this table was the place she sat and did projects. The door was right there to the outside so we could just be out there all the time, too.
And what about your grandkids, who are now young adults?
I’m very interested in being an intrusive grandmother. When my granddaughter visits with her girlfriend, we have fun. When she visited before covid, she made charming little drinks and snacks and we stayed up late.
What’s your go-to meal you like to make in here?
I’m the expert in manufacturing something out of a chicken. What I would like to do is learn how to make an olive oil cake!
We love your oval island. Is this where you do your prepping?
Surprisingly, no. Even if I have company, I don’t use the island. I cook everything on the stove.
What do you wish you could change about your kitchen?
I hate that my wallpapered calendar cabinets are fading. The way they age, I like a lot but they’re curling.
Everybody also wants to eat in the dining nook, so I’d like to be able to figure out a really interesting drop-leaf thing. I’m constantly looking for a place to sit with a coffee and read. I have that here, but maybe it could be better. I’m beginning to think in terms of how to change the house for when I have a motorized trike, so that I can get around.
I could do something with the lighting in here at night. I need new lighting. A little lamp helps, and my fake candles from Costco.
Show us out with a tour of some of the items in your kitchen that you love the most?
I love my plants. I have one cactus that I bought in probably 1965 or the early ’70s. I like this little terrarium where I have pieces of glass that are so goddamn attractive. In that little bottle inside of it is every single piece of glass that I pick up on the property. My rule is when I see something shiny walking around, I grab it.
This pot is from my grandmother from Michigan. It is a clay bean pot; you can use the edge of the pot to sharpen your knife! the top has a wire handle so it could hang within a fireplace. I never have repaired this because I don’t want to. I serve stuff in it.
This breadbasket is one of my favorites. I don’t know where it’s from.
We love that basket, too! Thanks for talking, Joan!