It’s time to break out the rubber gloves and tackle another crucial element of the kitchen: the pantry. Either the place at which you can easily reach your favorite flavors and ingredients, or a dark cluttered space with food lost to the ages, the pantry can dictate the entire cooking experience.
The main objective is to organize your pantry in a way that suits you, and give it a thorough cleaning for good measure. You want to be able to reach in and put your hand on exactly what you want, and thus free yourself to enjoy the process of preparing food you enjoy eating. To do that, we have to eliminate the “out of sight, out of mind” situation happening in those cupboards. Make sure you have some clear counter/table/floor space, put on some music that makes you move, and let’s dig in:
- Have a dusting rag, a damp sponge, and a damp rag handy. Again, a bucket full of soapy water and a bit of elbow grease, with a boost of white vinegar, can work magic. If you have tall shelves, a stepladder is a must-balancing on a stool is an unnecessary degree of difficulty to add to the task.
- Remove all of the items from your pantry, shelf by shelf. As you set them down, put them into whatever groupings most suit you.
- As you take out the things that have been withering in the dark recesses of your storage spaces, you will find many of them are sticky, or dusty, or perhaps not quite right. Refer to expiration dates and discard accordingly. While spices do not technically “go off,” they do lose their potency after time. Keep an eye open for signs of pests (three words: Pantry. Moths. Shudder.) Say goodbye to some things that you have never, ever used. Clean the items you want to keep with the soapy rag, and set them aside to dry, in the groupings you’ve chosen.
- If your shelves are removable, remove them top to bottom; otherwise, you’ll want that stepladder. With the dusting rag, wipe off the loose dust. Rinse and reuse the soapy rag in the bucket, and work the whole shelf over, making sure to get top, bottom, and sides. Give the face of your cupboard a once over too-you may not do this again for quite a while, and you’ll be glad to get rid of those sneaky finger smudges. Sometimes, you will rediscover the true color of the paint. Be momentarily horrified, and then enduringly delighted. Repeat for each shelf.
Take a step back, and look at the contents of your pantry as you’ve laid them out. Get a sense of the patterns, and groupings. Are you inclined to group by use (i.e. baking, seasoning, beverages, snacks)? Do you group by color? If the order of your pantry is designed around you, it becomes a playground rather than a hands-on-hips-staring-into-the-void experience.
With this perspective, take a look at what space you have, now that it’s all empty and sparkly clean. Envision the ways in which you could lay it out- with what you need regularly easily within reach, and the less used items on the higher shelves or the back of a deep shelf. If you have limited cupboard space, a little-used drawer can make a great place to group some of your favorite things.
- Play around with the arrangement of your ingredients; see if you can leave empty space anywhere, to invite new culinary adventures. Arrange the spices face front out for easy identification, have your favorite items front and center. Is there a way to arrange the spices by color that you like, or are you more alphabetically minded? As you set up your stations, think about whom else might be using the pantry, and try and add this into your master plan. (No need to be mad at your roommate/significant other/child for disturbing your hard-won peace). This is the fun part, so spend as much time as you enjoyable can.
- Now, you have one of two choices: make a meal and marvel at how enjoyable it is, or pour yourself a glass of your preferred beverage and stare lovingly at what you’ve accomplished.
A few resources on pantry-item shelf-lives below: