Thursday, February 28, 2008

Where's Your Pantry?

Unless you're going grocery shopping every day, or only eating in restaurants, you need a place to store your food. Food storage is a big deal for Mormons. We've been asked by our leaders to store a years worth of food for each person in the family, along with a lot of water. While long term food storage is important, Today I just want to talk about the short term kind.

There are three main places to put food that don't involve being incredibly strange. I know of one married couple that put all of their long term wheat storage under their bed. I'm not sure that would be my first choice but, they lived in a small apartment so I guess it worked for them. Barring putting food under your mattress, the three normal places are the refrigerator, your kitchen cupboards, and the pantry.

I'm a big believer in the pantry. Ours is downstairs in one corner of our basement. We use it for both long term, and some short term, food storage. Having it downstairs does present some problems. Mostly, it's not very convenient. If I want to cook something that isn't already in the kitchen, I've got to trudge downstairs to find it. Either that or enlist my children. “Honey? Can you go get me an onion, please?” Then I get to wait for several minutes, wondering what happened to them. Usually I find them downstairs playing with toys or reading or something and I have to get the onions myself, anyway. The pantry's got to be downstairs for us, though. My house doesn't have a nice closet or someplace close to the kitchen that isn't already filled with coats or towels.

Putting our pantry downstairs does have some advantages, though. It's pretty cool down there. No, I don't mean that I like hanging out in the pantry because the ambiance is amazing.

Well ... actually I do like hanging out in my pantry but, that's not the point.

No, when I say 'cool' I mean the more traditional cool – I'm talking temperature, here. It's best to store food in a cool, dry, and dark place. That's my basement, alright.

The same holds true for your kitchen cupboards. If you're going to store food in your kitchen, certainly you want to put the food in cupboards that are convenient, but you also want to keep it away from heat sources. You know. Like your stove. Keeping them away from south facing walls (if you live in the northern hemisphere, anyway), can also be a good idea.

Let's face it. Heat, even low temperatures, degrades most food, even dried food. It makes it spoil faster. Even if it hasn't gotten to that point, it can affect the flavor. Yuck.

When you're stocking your pantry, don't get crazy. Don't stock up on things you won't eat just because someone told you to have it. If you don't eat it, why buy it? It's not worth spending money on food you're just going to throw out.

As you start watching what you're eating (even if you're not on a diet), you'll start discovering that there are certain ingredients that you use over and over. They're the basic staples of your family's diet. Those things you can stock up on. Even if you don't know what you're going to cook for dinner next week, having those staple ingredients in your house makes it easer for you to make the food your family likes at a moment's notice. Believe it or not, broccoli is a staple ingredient for my family. So is cold cereal.

Good shelves are must. Build or buy the best shelving material you can afford. They're going to be holding a lot of stuff and you want them to last. Covering them with a good wipe-off surface can be a plus. Self adhesive shelf covering isn't too expensive.

As you organize your shelves, do it logically. You don't want to hunt all over the pantry to find that one box of macaroni that you remember buying. Put "like things" together. Put canned vegetables next to the canned soup for example.

As you get new things, don't put them in front of the older ones. You want to use up the older ones before the expiration date. Check these dates regularly and get rid of those that have expired. Check the labels for refrigeration requirements, too. Some foods store well on the shelf, but have to be refrigerated after they're opened.

I never put opened boxed back in the pantry. I keep them in my kitchen. The only exception to that is flour, rice, and oatmeal. I buy those in bulk to save money and add to my long term food storage. When I open a bag of flour or rice, I transfer it to an air tight container, and then take a smaller amount upstairs to the kitchen to use.

Taking a few small steps to create a well stocked and organized pantry can really get your "creative cooking juices" flowing, too. Seeing all of those interesting ingredients, I can't help but start thinking about all the delicious dishes I can make with them.

Maybe that's why I like spending time in my pantry. It's cool.

Photo by Sofi Gamache

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