Nothing But the Bare Facts!
I’m sitting in a desk in tenth grade Science class without a stitch of clothing. Everyone is pointing and staring. All I want to do is run from the room and escape, but the knowledge that standing up will be a million times worse keeps me in my seat. My cheeks are hot, my face is flushed, and I don’t even want to think of all the parts that are blushing.
I’ll bet many of you have had nightmares similar to the one above. If you haven’t, I promise I’m not crazy. (At least, not the bad kind of crazy.) Bear with me, I do have a point. (Just please don’t bare with me. That’s what we are trying to avoid.) If you have been reading along with the Outfitting Your the Kitchen series, you know I have been comparing clothing to meals. I want to carry that analogy a little further. Let’s consider a pantry to be like a wardrobe. The last thing I want is to go to the cupboard like Old Mother Hubbard and find that my pantry is bare.
Pantries, like wardrobes, are built in layers. In my wardrobe, the first layer is what I wear daily. I know I’ll wear most of these items in the next week or two. The next layer is things I keep for different seasons and for scrounging when all my favorites are in the wash. There is also a layer of outfits set aside for special occasions. These occasions could be dressy events, outings requiring specific gear, or sad things like funerals. The last layer is more long term. Because I live in a warm area, the last layer of my wardrobe is mostly cold weather clothes. These are things that get minimal use day to day but are lifesavers when I need them.
Building a pantry is much the same. The first layer is those things you know you’ll be using in the next week or two. If you don’t keep a pantry, please consider starting one! I can’t promise it will bring health, wealth, and happiness, but a pantry does bring those things a little closer. Having food on hand helps prevent last minute take-out. Avoiding the fast food trap improves health and contributes to the wealth department. I’m also much happier when I avoid last minute trips, whether to the grocery store or a restaurant. I could write an entire post on why to eat at home, but we all know that it’s better for you than most fast food. I like a good mystery, just not when it comes to the ingredients in my food!
Let’s start by discussing the items that form the foundation layer of any pantry. I have read several articles about what should be in a well-stocked pantry. However, I’m not sure how useful those articles really are. I keep a large pantry, but I don’t think a list of the items in it would benefit many people. Each family is unique, and that means their pantry needs are unique. For example:
- There are five adult size appetites that live in our home.
- We live on a farm fifteen miles from the nearest grocery store.
- Our family has peculiar and unusual dietary requirements.
- Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies.
- Although there are a few prepared foods that we use for convenience or nostalgia, I make most of our food from scratch.
- Part of my love to cook includes making foods from other cultures and time periods.
- I pressure and water-bath can a lot of food, depending on the season.
- We raise a significant amount of our food, so I consider things on the hoof and in the garden part of my pantry.
Because of our unusual lifestyle, my pantry contains some items that few use regularly and the typical cook might not recognize.
I also consider some non-food items to be part of my pantry. Toilet paper, sanitary products, toothpaste, deodorant, hairspray, cleaning products, and many other items. Honestly, many of the items listed above are things we make at home. However, we stock the ingredients to make them in our pantry.
Basically, the idea is that if you know you’ll need it within one to two weeks, you should have it on hand. What you should stock depends on your lifestyle and preferences. If you are one of those lovely, but pitiable individuals who subsist on frozen dinners, then purchase enough to get you through. (After getting enough for two weeks, please, for the love of all that is holy investigate some tastier, cheaper, and healthier options. Your taste buds will thank you!) I think the easiest way to decide what to put in the pantry is to look at your grocery list.
For example, Liam leaves for work at a ridiculous time in the morning. So, much like a hobbit, he has breakfast and second-breakfast. At o’dark-thirty, he has yogurt with fruit and a squirt of honey. I know that four days a week he will eat at least a cup of yogurt. That means I need a minimum of one quart of yogurt each week. If you add the yogurt the kids eat and what goes in smoothies, we go through a good bit. So, I need to have either enough ingredients to make that amount of yogurt or I need to buy that amount premade. Which option do I choose? Well, that depends on my work schedule, what’s happening on the farm, and what phase the moon is in.
If I see something on my grocery list regularly, then I need to have some of it on hand. We bake breakfast bars each week. The kids and I eat these for weekday breakfasts, and Liam has one for second-breakfast. The type of bar varies seasonally, but we always make a double batch of two flavors a week. These are quick, healthy, cheap, and everyone likes them. I buy as many of the basic ingredients for them in bulk as possible. The benefits are twofold. I rarely run low on things, and the bulk buys are cheaper than smaller packets. For our family, oatmeal, pumpkin, walnuts, baking soda, etc… are things we know would be on our list weekly, if we didn’t already have them on hand. For your family, it may be a couple of extra boxes of Special K. The main idea is to look at what you are consistently eating, and then keep enough on hand to prevent ‘uh-oh’ trips to the store or Starbucks.
I tried to compile a list of pantry staples. Eggs, milk, butter, flour, leavening, salt, pepper, oil, and sugar sprang immediately to mind. Yet, I know that many people don’t bake. (I’m on a mission to change that!) So, those folks need to stock bread in the freezer, rather than flour in the cupboard. One friend recently called with a cooking question. She was having trouble with a quick bread. When I asked what leavening it called for, it became clear she didn’t understand the word. So, I am not expecting her to store yeast, baking soda, and baking powder in large quantities. In previous posts, I’ve repeated the mantra, “Use what you’ve got” Now, we need to add, “Store what you use” to our daily affirmations.
If you don’t keep a pantry, then get started making a list of things you need to stock. I plan to do a series of posts about how to build a pantry. Those of you with a small pantry, please come back and join me when we talk about adding the next pantry layer. Should your pantry be the size of a small shop, like mine, I hope you will join in when we talk about storage tips and tricks.
The next post in this series is also available. I hope you’ll read along!