Consider the pantry, a small room or cabinet with shelving that holds food stores until ready to be used in the preparation of meals.
Our house, built in 1900, has a cold pantry that measures about three-foot square, and eight-feet high. Its original intent was to keep prepared meats and other food items that needed to be kept cool. The name for this type of pantry is larder, referring to the lard that was used to pack around meats. Right off to the side of the kitchen is a room that had been turned into a terribly inefficient laundry room. Our best guess was that it was originally a pantry.
It is again a pantry. And it is large, packed floor to ceiling with canned and packaged foods in a faintly organized manner. It has become a repository for multiple items that might suggest we were survivalists who were prepared to survive the apocalypse by consuming canned fruit.
I don’t remember having bought canned fruit in the last several years and yet on two long shelves are peaches, pears, and fruit cocktail—the moral equivalent of frozen mixed vegetables.
As handy as our pantry is, it’s not terribly easy to navigate. And that’s why, I believe, we have so many duplicates and triplicates of many of the same items. What makes this happen is that in the rush to get to the grocery store and back, we fail to look to see if any of the items on the grocery list might be in the pantry.
Standing in front of the shelves of pasta at the grocery store, I wonder if we have any fettucine. I then place two packages in the cart. When I get home, the two packages join the four in the pantry. I repeat the practice the following week. And I do the same thing with both dried and canned beans.
Only half of the stuff I buy at the store is mentioned on my list. The other half is created in my head as I wander the aisles looking for inspiration for upcoming meals. That exercise leads to even more product multiples.
Frequently, the system backfires.
For instance, I always assume we have plenty of canned tomatoes: whole, diced, crushed, paste. Using this illogic, I don’t put any more in the cart. When I get home, I discover that we have no canned tomatoes in any of its many guises. I’m left wondering if I could create a pasta sauce from canned fruit: linguine with peaches; penne with pears.
It can be assumed that much of the pantry’s redundancy of offerings will, in time, find a line where they all exist. In the meantime, I wonder why we have three—opened—packages of matzoh meal. And I wonder why we have no packages of matzoh crackers, from which one can easily make matzoh meal.
I make matzoh ball chicken soup two, maybe three, times a year. Matzoh crackers I find useful from hiding it from the children at Passover to its serving as an edible bite for Muenster cheese. It is both benign and tasteless, which also makes it perfect for scungilli.
Thanks to a dear friend, I have a 64-ounce can of scungilli, which is enough to feed at least ten people as an appetizer. I’m hesitant to open it. I grew up eating cans of it in tins the size of tuna fish. A 64-ounce serving seems somewhat daunting.
Scungilli, in case you don’t know (and why should you?), is the meat found ensconced in the conch (conk) shell, that pastel shell of pink and coral that provides a listen to the ocean. If there is no sound, the slimy conch meat slithers out of the shell and burrows into the ear of the listener. That’s not true. I made it up, trying to imagine such a horrible experience as having one’s inner ear sucked out by a snake of brownish slime.
Move over Stephen King.
But back to the pantry, the word itself coming from the French for bread: pane.
We have, I discovered yesterday, several cans of beef and pork. The thought of such makes me want to gag. We also have no Span, the thought of which also makes me want to gag. I couldn’t find any sardines or oysters—the last of which I consumed on hunting trips. We do have several cans of chunk light tuna in water. I prefer the imported tuna in oil.
I suppose, if one were to be starting a pantry, one should look to variety and enough to provide sustenance for at least one week. That’s as far as I will go on the whole survivor thing. Various forms of threatening weather might allow for us to be inconvenienced for a while and having on hand a supply of nutritional foods might be a good idea.
Foodstuffs that don’t need much preparation would be handy if the power goes out.
Dinty Moore Beef Stew is edible as is, but it needs is to be warmed up to be palatable.
Canned fruit, however, is good to go.
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
Small tin of scungilli, drained.
Thinly sliced lemon and red onion.
Place pieces of scungilli on broken pieces if matzoh. Top with lemon slices and onion. Dress with good quality olive oil. Enjoy with a hearty white wine or beer.