Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Is It A Closet Or A Press?

A press is a closet

A few weeks ago you helped answer a question sent to me by Blind Pig reader Eldonna Ashley. You did such a great job-that Eldonna sent me another question:

“I have been wondering about another word: press

In my family, particularly the ones that came from the Virginia shore, it was used as a name for a closet or pantry. There was a press in the kitchen, next to the chimney. It held pots, called stewers (pronounced “stirs”). It also held enamel ware, mostly white with red trim. No food so as not to attract mice.

The press in the living room held folded things — extra sheets and blankets, clean overalls, stuff like that.

There were three bedrooms, none of them had closets or presses. A few nails on the back of the door sufficed.”

—————–

I did a little research and discovered press is an Irish word.

press noun
A large, shelved cabinet or walled cupboard, esp in the kitchen.

I don’t hear folks use the word press in the manner Eldonna described-nor do I use it that way myself. BUT-somewhere in the back corner of my brain I have a niggling feeling that I have heard the word used exactly in the manner she describes.

What about you?

Tipper

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40 Comments

  • Reply
    Dawn Wiglesworth
    April 13, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    My grandmother had a press in the front room… We called that front room the house., I do not know why… My grandmothers bed was also in that room… We had an oil stove in that room with a register cut into the ceiling which heated the bedroom above it.. In the winter we would run from the living room thru the unseated hall and dining room… We had a large coal stove in the kitchen..

  • Reply
    Terry
    March 24, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    My grandmother referred to the closet in the front room of the house as the press. Her mother used press in this way also. This was southern Indiana, northern Kentucky area south and west of Cincinnati, Ohio

    • Reply
      Lance
      February 19, 2018 at 7:12 am

      My Grandmother (Columbus, OH USA ) referred to an odd closet in her living room (not close to the entrance of their home) as a Press. This is one place the internet is positive; Thank You!!!

  • Reply
    Tipper
    April 28, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Amy-thank you for the great comment! I’ve never heard green peppers called mangos-but that is very interesting!
    I hope you have a great evening : )
    Tipper
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Amy
    April 22, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    My best friend’s mother always referred to a closet as a ‘press’. I’m not sure why she used the word but my
    Mother and Grandmother didn’t even though we all grew up in basically the same region (southern Ohio, Ross county and south).
    But I’ve got a different word ‘puzzle’: growing up we grew ‘mangos’ in the garden. We also ordered ‘mango’ on pizza. I think I was in late high school or college before I realized the rest of the world knew ‘mangos’ as green peppers. LOL

  • Reply
    Travis
    November 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    My grandfather came from just over the Kentucky line near Matewan, WV. He always said press instead of closet.

  • Reply
    Tipper
    October 4, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    B.Ruth the cutie pie is my friends little boy-a darling for sure! Yes you sent that cold air over my way LOL! But I dont mind Im ready for fall. I recently saw a cracked persimmon seed too! Just like you said it had a shovel for shoveling all the snow were going to get this winter-I hope! More to come on that!
    Tipper
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Tipper
    October 4, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Dolores the cutie pie is my friends little boy Oliver : ) He is adorable!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 4, 2014 at 8:21 am

    I remember the press.It was where my grandmother kept her grips (suitcases). She packed her grip when she was going visiting but always carried her shoes in poke (paper bag). Does anyone else remember grip and poke????
    Gayle Larson

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    October 4, 2014 at 5:15 am

    Thank you all! I so loved reading your thoughts and stories. It took me a long time to figure out that a stewer was what we called a stir. I was glad some of you mentioned that. The press I understood from a child.
    Someone mentioned that a press might be built near thr fire place. That was true in my grandmother’s home, although the fireplaces were no longer in use. There was a wood-burning cook stove in the kitchen. My grandmother cooked on it til she died in 1964. She burned corn cobs in the summer. The other fireplace was replaced by a wood burning heating stove. It didn’t really put out much heat.
    I am from southern Ohio, there are about 6 counties clustered together there that share this heritage, it is very southern. It was such a good life growing up. I treasure that.

  • Reply
    mark mojado
    October 3, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Where i spent my summers helping buck hey fix fence on the reservation in pala the house had a closet that open up and a iron board came out.

  • Reply
    Nita
    October 3, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    My grandparents lived in Alabama & they had a “chifforobe” in each bedroom along with nails on the walls for hooks. The dining room chairs were covered in some type of animal hair; I remember rubbing the fur back and forth when I was a child! Lol.

  • Reply
    Carolyn hunt
    October 3, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    My grandmother used the word closet for bathroom also.

  • Reply
    Janice Stout
    October 3, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    These are the days I miss my Grandmothers. They both used the word press but I was so young, I’m not sure if they used it to refer to a place to keep clothes, linens, or foodstuffs (there’s a word for you!). My guess would be that they used it to refer to where they stored linens – which in their day they would starch and iron (press) and then store neatly away for use when someone important came to stay.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 3, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Tipper,
    I’ve never heard of Press used as
    a cabinet, but I have heard of
    shift robe. I remember mama hanging
    pots and pans on nails behind our
    old wood cookstove. After washing
    them in heated water on the stove,
    mama just hung them up to drip dry.
    …Ken

  • Reply
    Howland
    October 3, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    We have two chifferobes or clothes-presses, one is a cleverly disguised gun cabinet.
    A man who had made a study of things and times of yore told me that the reason that houses were built without closets was that ‘way back, houses were taxed by the number of rooms, and a closet was counted as a room. I can neither confirm nor deny this…

  • Reply
    Eve
    October 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I am not fanmiliar with it used that way. I have heard of wine press and apple press but not press for a closet. We did have closets when I was growing up but they had no doors. Most people put curtains over them. This was the time too when people used plastic “lace” curtains on their windows. How I hated those but it was considered just fine in our poor community. I knew rich people didn’t use them though.

  • Reply
    Wanda
    October 3, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    I don’t remember hearing the word used but it was immediately familiar to me as being a closet. Our cooking vessels were all stewers or frying pans.
    My granny had a huge chiferobe in one bedroom that was dark wood & went nearly to the ceiling. I loved her fluffy beds with the feather beds & her chenille bedspreads but that chifferobe gave me the cold creeps.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 3, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Just wanted to let you know that the rain b. Ruth sent has arrived. We really needed it too. It had been almost two days since we’ve had any.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    October 3, 2014 at 11:28 am

    My maternal grandmother had a closet with shelves in one of her bedrooms. She kept bed linens and quilts in the space, but I’ve forgotten her name for the closet. I do recall Mama’s chest of drawers for I thought she was saying Chester Drawers. Made me wonder who Chester was and why his drawers were in my parent’s bedroom. In early childhood I slept in an added on room. At one end Daddy suspended a pipe from wire stretching from wall to wall. Mama kept coats and dresses there. Several years later we moved into a Craftsman style home where the closets were less than a yard wide. I miss those days and most of all my parents, but not the closets.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    October 3, 2014 at 11:09 am

    That is a new one on me. We have cupboards which in our world were alcoves with a cloth across them. They were always by the chimney and had boards as shelves. They held all the pots and fry pans, kettles, skillets, and stewers. The cloth had a spring holding it up with a nail on each side. Granny changed it every year when she sewed up a new one. The old one was torn up and used as rags to clean or dust.

  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    October 3, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I never head the use of press in this manner. Maybe because most houses we lived in only had nails on the wall to hang things.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    October 3, 2014 at 10:18 am

    I have heard a china cabinet referred to as a china press. My grandmother called the cabinet she had in the kitchen a safe. It had double glass doors on the top, a drawer the width of the cabinet in the middle, and double doors without glass in the bottom. There were keyholes for the doors and the drawer. My grandmother had only one closet in her house, and it was under the staircase to the upstairs. My mom has the cabinet today, and years ago my dad refinished it, and it is a beautiful golden oak.

  • Reply
    Shirla
    October 3, 2014 at 9:36 am

    We never had closets when I was growing up, just presses. I remember most of them having a large piece of fabric hanging from nails that covered the entrance. Mom still called them presses when she had a modern house with real closets in almost every room.
    I’m listening to Pap and Paul sing Ethan Allen for the second time today. I think I could listen to those two all day!

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    October 3, 2014 at 9:14 am

    I have never heard the word press for closet. If located in the kitchen was always the kitchen pantry. Back in the day chifforobes were used in bedrooms.
    I have often wondered how my Grandmother seemed to effortlessly keep such a neat home with children everywhere and no closets to hide things. We never sat in her living room where furniture had a plastic covering. They never had much, so no extra clothing nor dodads scattered about. All 20+ grandchildren stayed outside exploring and playing until way past dark. We were not packed in front of a tv with 10 remotes scattered all over–no tv back then. She didn’t have a pantry, as most food was brought from cellar. Snacks consisted of small hands reaching into a crock to pull out pickled corn. I often remember her simple life, and she would have loved a press.

  • Reply
    dolores
    October 3, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Okay! I feel I have been educated this morning. I have never heard the word ‘press’ used for closet or storage type of furniture. Perhaps, it was the beginning of the development of what is now an armoire type of furniture that is found in many bedrooms today. Very interesting! Now where did you find that picture of the little mischievous looking little guy?

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 3, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Cabinet, chest, cubby, buffet, bureau, hutch, sideboard, wardrobe are familiar terms. I have heard linen press used but didn’t know what it meant. I do now. I thought you had to have a butler to have a pantry. I have heard people say chifforobe but thought they were saying shiverow. I woke up this morning thanking I knowed pruty much everthang and here you have went and showed me up.
    We have had a precious plenty of rain herelately and looks like b. Ruth is sending more. Thanks b.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 3, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Tipper,
    There is not room here today. Sometime I will tell you the story of our visit to an “exclusive door bell only entry type antique Shoppe” in Baltimore. Where the employee was riding on his high-horse and tried to sell us on piece of storage/ closet furniture and the way my husband in all his humorous glory brought him down a notch or three and ended up that he revealed that he was born in the South!
    In other words you’re not from around here are you, you are really my people! LOL
    Thanks Tipper,
    No, we can’t afford that type of stuff…we just wanted to go look-see for fun!

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    October 3, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Tipper: This is a new one on me. I guess that Ethelene lived over there in Georgia – which is far advanced compared to the Matheson Cove. BUT I love learning new words.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Carol Stuart
    October 3, 2014 at 8:01 am

    In my part of WV, a press was used for storing linens and was a cabinet with shelves.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 3, 2014 at 7:50 am

    I’ve heard the word used that way but rarely and a long time ago.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 3, 2014 at 7:29 am

    I think the word originally referred to a piece of furniture designed to hold clothes (clothes press)most early homes didn’t have closets of any sort. When closets started being a part of the house people continued to call them presses. In my family our fridge is called an icebox, even though I have never seen or used one in my house.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 3, 2014 at 7:23 am

    We used “press” in Choestoe, a community in the Appalachian Mountains of North Georgia. In the days when most of our country houses were constructed without closets, a “press” was often a free-standing, home-made cabinet for the purposes for which it was constructed and where it was placed. My daddy made a large “clothes press” for the largest bedroom, and a smaller one for the children’s bedroom–and still another for the extra bedroom “upstairs”. These had shelves as well as “hanging space.” When something was needed from either of the “presses,” the instructions were “Get that from the clothes press in the big bedroom, or children’s bedroom, or the upstairs room.” Then there were presses for pots and pans and extra groceries. But our home-canned goods (and they were many) were kept in the “can house.” I ofen thought the “press” idea came because, with such a small amount of storage space available, things were really “pressed” into the home-made, free-standing cabinets!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 3, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Tipper,
    First, who is that little rascal in the press/pantry/storage closet! Such a sweet and innocent face!
    This doesn’t have anything to do with this post, unless one wants to hide in the press/closet!
    At 6:40am exactly the sky opened and rain poured for about 5 minutes and now is a steady rain.
    We definitely needed rain! My greens in the garden were wilting, like the “wicked witch of Oz-land”. It is moving East in your direction. The temperature is supposed to drop by Saturday, clearing with a daytime high of 50ish here.
    My son cracked open a persimmon seed. The spoon was there but bent like it would be holding a lot of wet snow! This may be your favorite snow year Tipper and I think Ken is a snow lover as well!
    That is my weather report for today!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Does anyone want to predict the date of the first freeze or frost?

  • Reply
    Lola Howard
    October 3, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I know a man that still uses the word “press” for where he puts his can food.

  • Reply
    Lola Howard
    October 3, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I know a man that still uses the word “press” for where he puts his can food.

  • Reply
    Lola Howard
    October 3, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I know a man that still uses the word “press” for where he puts his can food.

  • Reply
    Barb Wright
    October 3, 2014 at 7:17 am

    I have heard that word. My grandma and her sister both said press instead of closet. Although they were raised in southern PA,I suspect their roots were even farther south. They were a very musical,bluegrass family. All of them played one or more instruments(well!),mostly on the porch.I miss those people and their talent!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 3, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Tipper,
    I have heard press, but my Grandmothers used tall pieces of furniture called chifforobes and armoires for daily clothes and hat storage. They were portable closets or presses! In other words if one child moved out the rolling closet or not (some did not have little wheels) could me moved to another bedroom for use.
    My Grandmothers houses did not have closets to speak of, very tiny space usually along a wall where a fireplace (area) that came up through the floor of the bedrooms from the downstairs main floor. That empty space was a small closet. They had one large closet/press upstairs and one large closet/press downstairs. The kitchen press was called a pantry and extra things like the electric churn, pans and canning supplies were kept there if still being used, then in November took to the basement which had shelves but not a floor only hard pack dirt or clay. That is until later years and concrete was poured and the basements were partially finished. A lot of large enamel ware pans, some not used often were stored off the kitchen in a screened in small area of a back porch!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…I wish I was limited to storage of one press, chifforobe, etc. Too many closets/presses and too many too full, I would be “hard pressed” to get them all cleaned out by New Year’s….

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    October 3, 2014 at 6:23 am

    I am aware of the word “press” meaning closet. I am not sure where I learned that because I do not ever remember hearing it when I was growing up in Floyd County, VA

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