The first snow arrived and stayed this week, just enough to enjoy its beauty without the work of shoveling, salting and slow driving. The ‘snow of work’ is scheduled for much of this coming week. Winter is supposed to be a time for rest and turning inward. The rest part does not come easily to me, and I have re-defined the turning inward to something far more practical: re-organizing, re-thinking and cleaning out the inside of my home. I never thought of myself as a collector of things; I don’t randomly shop and only buy things that I need. Or so I thought.
My grandparents had something called a ‘side room’ – it was a spare bedroom that became The Place to Put Stuff. Extra groceries, empty boxes, holiday decorations were stored in the side room but perhaps it was best known as the last place for dust collection before donation of Things That Seemed Like a Good Idea at The Time. Garages have become the super-sized versions of side rooms. George Carlin described the storage of our consumption habits best: “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”
Herb work needs space. Dried botanicals need to be stored, away from direct heat and light. Infused oils and tinctures need similar protection. Packaging for HerbWyfe, my herbal CSA, takes up considerable space: I understand how shipping warehouses came to be in existence. Having everything in one place with easy access makes for efficiency and a certain amount of sanity. After this past growing season, when I harvested and processed more herbs than ever before and then ordered additional supplies for my products, I found niches and nooks in almost every room of my house to store my bounty. Increasingly, this led to me standing in my kitchen trying to remember where the jar of bee balm flowers was stashed or wondering if I had made a pint or a quart of goldenrod oil. Inventory control was completely absent. Which explains the presence of two 8 oz. bags of allspice (that’s a lot of allspice), the discovery of a bag of dried hops that I could not find for a month this past fall and the quarts of St. John’s oil and tincture that came as a result of multiple pints found in lurking in a variety of dark spaces.
After the last holiday sales events were completed, I came home to a mess. Disorganization ruled and I cannot function in that kind of environment so I started what I thought would be a two-day re-organization of my herbs and assorted tools of the trade. A week later, I have created what was once known as a still room (from Wikipedia):
The still room is a distillery room found in most great houses, castles or large establishments throughout Europe dating back at least to medieval times. The lady of the house was in charge of the room, where medicines were prepared, cosmetics and many home cleaning products created, and home-brewed beer or wine was often made. Herbs from the kitchen garden and surrounding countryside were processed into what today we call essential oils, and infused or distilled, or brewed (etc.) as required to make rose water, lavender water, peppermint based ointments, soaps, furniture polishes and a wide variety of medicines.  It was a working room: part science lab, part infirmary and part kitchen. In later years, as doctors & apothecaries became more widely spread and the products of the still room became commercially available, the still room became increasingly an adjunct of the kitchen. The use of still room devolved to making only jams, jellies, home-brewed beverages and as a store room for perishables such as cakes.
Originally, the still room was a very important part of the household, run by the lady of the house, and used to teach her daughters and wards some of the skills needed to run their own homes in order to make them more marriageable by having those skills. As practical skills fell out fashion for high born women, the still room became the province first of poor dependent relations, then of housekeepers or cooks. The still room was later staffed by the still room maid.
My new still room is delightful, and I am thankful that I have the space to create one though my solution was a bit unconventional. My bed went into a ‘side room’ and the master bedroom is now my still room!
Now I need to get to work on the stuff in the side room.