X. HEARTH, LIGHTING AND KITCHEN
Historically, the fireplace was synonymous with hearth and considered as a household in the census. An image that regularly appeared in our field work is that of the family, larger than the ones today, gathered together around the hearth both to eat and to also perform certain household tasks, such as sewing, weaving, shelling vegetables, etc. It was also where the older family members would tell the children tales and legends, and where the rosary was said.
In the past, the fireplace was a hearth or stove that had many uses and was very important. It provided the household with warmth, it was used to cook and heat up the food for the family and the domesticated animals, and water was boiled there for people to wash or for the laundry. The kitchen considered to be the house’s most important room is a common denominator of the surveys. Strictly speaking, hearth was used to refer the place in the kitchen where the fire was laid and the cooking was done.
The kitchen, sukaldea, ezkaratza, has occupied and continues to occupy a key place in both the rural and urban home, and the hearth or fireplace has been a main feature in it. The hearth was at the centre of the home to such an extent that a saying from the end of the 16th century went: Subako etxea, gorputz odol bagea (A house without a hearth is like a body without blood).
A highly important aspect of the home hearth was the draught, in other words, the entry of air to kindle the fire and extract the smoke. It was hard to get the balance right between keeping heat in and the air needed for the draught. A seat with a high back, zizailu, was placed in front of or beside the hearth or the fire was protected with a low wall in order to keep the heat in.
The fact that wheat stopped being planted in the mid-20th century and corn shortly afterwards, at least to make corn bread, meant that domestic ovens fell into disuse or disappeared due to the aforementioned crisis, and because people stopped buying wheat and rather began to buy their bread from bakeries.
In many of the towns surveyed, it was seen that until the mid-20th century, nearly all the houses had domestic or bread ovens to make bread. It was also noted that many have disappeared or are only used occasionally. This was due to the importance of bread as a staple in the diet and the lack of bakeries or bread delivery service in remote places.
In the past, particularly in rural areas, the pace of life was set by the sunrise and sunset. The daylight hours were used for the farming-livestock work outside the home and also for the household tasks. Therefore, when night fell, the oldest form of lighting that the people surveyed remembered was the light from the flames of the fireplace or hearth and of the embers as the fire went out. Thus, families in many locations used to gather next to the fireplace to work on some household tasks, to pray or to chat until it was bedtime.
Some descriptions show that the kitchen in the past was a dark and not well ventilated place. Thus, in Abezia (A), we were told that it was a dark space with just a small window to let light in, little furniture and with walls blackened by the smoke. In Mirafuentes (N), the kitchen used to be in the darkest room of the house, in a nearly windowless room. Some people claimed that the choice was to ensure greater privacy so that the neighbours could not hear what happened in the most important room of the house. Kitchens were then moved to the dining room space which is the lightest part of the house.
In Romanzado and Urraúl Bajo (N), it was found that the kitchen nearly always has a window on the main frontage, where the front door is. This makes it easier to hear when someone calls and see who is there. There may be a second window on another outside wall when the kitchen is at the end of the house. As the residents of Artajona (N) explained, the old custom still remains of hanging clothes on nails or hangers on the back of the kitchen door.
In Donoztiri (BN), the door is generally a large space in the front part of the home, leading off the hallway, with a window in the outside wall. In Sara (L), it is adjacent to the hallway or to the porch, lorio, in the old-style houses. In Ataun (G), apart from the kitchen, sukalde, there is a room called a karrera in many houses, which was used for tools or as a workshop for manual tasks on many farmsteads.
In Orozko (B), there was an earthen floor in the kitchen, subetea, which was next to the stabling on the ground floor. When the kitchen was on the middle storey, the floor was usually made out of wood, instead of stone tiles. Nowadays, the floor is covered with granite, ceramic or fired-clay tiles.