The fact that my pantry, something I yearned for my entire life, has a door, is a mixed blessing. Ideally I would have preferred glass so that I could admire the colourful labels of neatly stacked preserves and jewel-toned specialty vinegars as I passed by, and perhaps a batterie de cuisine like Nigella has, with all manner of higgledy-piggledy utensils strewn carelessly on a rod yet somehow bound together by a singular whimsy all its own. But alas, this is the fantasy and not the reality.
My humble pantry (not to be confused with the British larder which is more of a cold cellar and kept cool enough year round to house various cheeses, pickles and great hams) often requires a serious intervention and at no time am I more keenly aware of this than in the spring, when the urge to purge is upon me.
Actually getting down to the dreaded clear out is intense. I have consulted many storage advisory websites, books and magazines prior to the big clean day and a common theme shines throughout: like must go with like. Boldly, I set out with a garbage bag at the ready as I try to follow through. But there are many things here that do not go with anything. Why, for example, is there an (alarmingly realistic) rubber mouse in here? (An under-the-door casualty of some late night game of “cat soccer” no doubt). I offer this relic brightly to the Siamese cats who shoot me a look that says: “Seriously?” Similarly, what to do with an entire box of baking soda that has been housed too closely to the sinus-openingly fresh Garam Masala that I recently ground myself? There are not many recipes calling for curried baking soda.
Moving on to the dried food section, I find 14 tiny, twist-tied bags, each with approximately five pieces of pasta of various sizes. The dome-shaped jars I bought at IKEA — stunningly elegant in their own right — never actually fit an entire bag of pasta so the effect is somewhat diminished when I have to relegate the remainder to sandwich bags.
There’s also the deeply unpleasant discovery of a small plastic sleeve of walnuts — unopened but from ancient times — which now presents a transparent vista to tiny, writhing moths, some of whom are performing an admirable version of the Macarena. The bag is totally sealed but I’m so rattled that I scrub the entire pantry with a bleach solution just to be sure.
Of course, there are treasures here as well. My dearest friend always brings back a bottle of thick, inky black balsamic vinegar from Italy and the pencil-thin bottle with its crimped ribbon and uneven seal of red wax looks very Harry Potterish on its shelf of honour. My sister-in-law’s jar of blackcurrant jam — squat and majestic in its own right — sits next to a pot of preserved lemons and there are rows of brightly labeled San Marzano tomatoes. Harissa in a cheerful yellow tube gleams next to its curious neighbor Marmite and there’s a coveted bottle of garnet-shiny pomegranate molasses behind them, as well as four different kinds of rice. Standing back, I comfort myself with the notion that there is still a goodly amount of food in the house and all is not lost.
By the end of the day, I am very happy and order has been restored; in fact, I will return to the pantry often just to admire the view. We may not be ready for an inspection from Mrs. Patmore of Downton but for now I can enjoy the soothing balm to my conscience that only organization can provide.
Sue Sutherland-Wood is an award-winning freelance writer who lives and works in Old South London. She is also a regular contributor to eatdrink.