A real family, a real kitchen. We talk with Raven & Boar’s Ruby Duke about life, time, change, and the room where it all happens.
As with most of us, Ruby Duke’s kitchen isn’t a dream kitchen. Instead, it’s a high traffic, high use space where her family lives, eats, cooks, does homework, feeds four dogs and two cats, and hangs out with friends. Every night, it’s where her family makes a mess cooking dinner, only to clean it all up to make a different mess tomorrow. Ruby’s kitchen is also her house’s landing strip. The only thing that comes through the front door are packages; friends, family—and everything else—come in through the kitchen.
Ruby comes from the food world—she is the proprietor of Raven & Boar farm (which raises heritage-breed pigs), and she’s the force behind the eponymous company that produces sought-after artisanal charcuterie and sausage. That said, her kitchen is a family kitchen. It’s in a rambling former roadhouse in northern Columbia County in which some elements (including the kitchen) were built in the 1830s, while others were built during construction/renovation campaigns in the 1920s, 1940s, and 1970s. When Ruby and her then-husband moved in 14 years ago, they made their own modifications. Ruby’s kitchen has been a work in progress for nearly 200 years.
THE “TEST KITCHEN”
“There’s this room off the kitchen that was part of the original 1830s house. We were going to make it a little mini charcuterie kitchen. We call it the ‘test kitchen’ because, when I first started making salami and breaking down whole animals, I didn’t have the rental kitchen; I was doing it at home in this funny little room. It’s a joke that we still call this room the test kitchen even though it’s really the kids’ craft room. It has an old two-bay commercial sink, which is great, because we can wash really big pots in there. And then there’s a second fridge and a big worktable in there. Right now, we’re getting ready for New Year’s Eve and I’m going to make crème brûlée. I’ll be putting it in that fridge. You know: You go to put something in your kitchen fridge, but nope! That’s where the turkey’s defrosting.
“Also, that’s where all the beer, prosecco, and champagne go when we’re having a party. It’s really nice to have a second fridge.”
“When we moved in, the floor was a cracking plastic mat that had been glued onto a subfloor. We found out that April Bloomfield wanted to come to the farm because she was writing her first cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig, and she wanted to slaughter and cook a pig for the book. They were thinking of cooking the pig in my kitchen. And we were like, ‘Ohh, shit.’
“We get this flooring up and it’s terrible. Underneath, there were holes in the floor, which were heating vents from some past life of this 1830s room. You could see all the layers of flooring through these holes. So, we’re going, ‘OK, so there’s plastic, and there’s this other layer of plywood, and then there’s some other stuff, and then there’s wood.’ We thought, ‘Let’s just scrape everything up to get to that top layer of wood.’
“We yanked up every nail, but we never refinished the wood. We were thinking, ‘After April leaves, maybe we’ll put another floor on top,’ but we never got around to it. It’s not the wide boards from the 1830s; we never tore the floor all the way down to that. There’s nothing really fancy about it, but when you mop it, it comes out OK.”
THE COMMERCIAL STOVE
“I feel like my life changed with this range. Being able to cook anything—any size turkey—I mean, just having a tool like a good oven. It’s great to not think about it because it doesn’t need to be thought about. “When people come into the kitchen, it’s almost daunting. We keep a little lighter on the side, and that’s how we light
the burners. The oven has an automatic ignition, but the burners don’t. It’s funny when the kids go to make tea and they’re lighting the burner. Some people will go, ‘Oh my God, what is your kid doing?!?!’ I’m, like, ‘They’re just getting ready to cook something. It’s OK.’
“In the middle of the winter, I went to Mexico a couple times with my mom and the kids for 10 days. That was my vacation, but getting some time alone was my husband’s vacation, too. He did this really great project where he tore out part of the old pantry and built shelves: That was a real game changer. Before, it was a patchwork of funny standing shelves and one of those pegboards where you hang
things from hooks.
“He made the pantry way more functional because I really do have a ton of stuff. I don’t think I’m a hoarder, but I love big meals, and I love huge serving platters. Look, you’re never going to run out of plates at my house, and you’re never gonna run out of chairs. Any size mixing bowl, any size serving bowl, any size plate: It’s all in there in different sizes and colors, and it’s not matching at all. There are a lot
of doubles of things—but sometimes it all gets used.
“The pantry shelves are these nice, sturdy wooden shelves—I can put all my cast iron on one shelf and not worry it’s going to bow or break. I can put as many trays and dishes as I want on those shelves. I can climb up them if I need to.”
DREAM A LITTLE DREAM
If you could add one thing to make this a Dream Kitchen, what would that thing be?
“At work, I have a walk-in—I want a commercial fridge and a freezer. I’ve thought about this a lot: I’d get rid of this Samsung fridge that has this little freezer door and this little fridge door and put a commercial fridge and a freezer in the other room where I just have that beer fridge, you know?”
The room’s long history is part of its charm. “There’s something about it that has this feeling of, I don’t know—it’s just sort of welcoming. It’s definitely worn in lots of places. And crooked,” Ruby says. “It had a lot of life in it, you know what I mean?”
Ruby fondly remembers her family’s raucous kitchen when she was growing up. The Rolling Stones played on the stereo, and she and her siblings sang and danced while washing the dishes. “That’s how we spent time together as a family.” She encourages that energy in the kitchen that she shares with her tween and teenage daughters, Freia and Kestrel.
“Also,” she says, “in my family, while you’re eating breakfast, you’re talking about lunch.” And when you’re eating lunch, you’re talking about dinner. Yeah. For my mom and my siblings, that’s just how we gather. That’s how we gather at this house, too.” As we speak, one daughter is working through a cranberry sauce recipe. Ruby pauses frequently to offer advice.
Like most of us, Ruby’s home is a respite from work. “There’s nothing really pristine in my kitchen at home,” she shrugs. “At work—because everything is under federal inspection—we’ve got an inspector in every day. We run an extremely tight ship. Every surface is wiped down. Stainless steel. We’re constantly following SOPs and making sure that it’s by the books.”
“So, at home, it’s way more relaxed,” she says. “My kids cook a lot and it can get messy—but that’s kind of the joy of it.”
“The worktable is right between the sink and the range and it just sort of cuts through the kitchen. A lot happens there. Mostly, we stand around and talk, you
know—that’s kind of the hangout spot.”