With the ongoing frigid temperatures and blowing snow making the highways a travel nightmare, I am thankful that I keep a well-stocked pantry. As a child, I remember my grandparents and aunts all having fully-loaded pantries. At lunch, I would love going down to my Nannetta and Nonno’s basement to pick out what pasta I wanted to eat for lunch. They would have various pastas on the shelves my Nonno had made – Conchiglie, Rigatoni, Ditalini, Penne, Tubeti, Orecchietti, Orzo, Linguine and more; it was like shopping in a little store.
Depending on the time of year, their pantry could be overflowing with garden vegetables in old wooden grape crates, fresh salami hanging from the ceiling or packed in oil, vats of wine in reed covered baskets, and beans or seeds laid out on wooden trays to dry. The shelves were always stocked with several cans of Medaglia d’Oro coffee and virgin olive oil, pastas, Unico canned tomatoes and paper necessities like toilet paper, Kleenex and paper towels. Bags, new and used sat along side Italian Tupperware (recycled margarine/riccotta containers) and tons of those Styrofoam plates you get under your meats (they were great for freezing homemade gnocchi and tagliatelle). If I was lucky I would find a bag of anise candies or my favourite childhood drinks, chinotto or red bitters. They came in the most adorable tiny mottled glass bottles.
Should a snow storm keep them house bound for a month or twenty people unexpectedly stopped by for lunch there would be no shortage of food. The pantry was helpful, especially in winter, it would save my Nonno from walking several blocks to the local grocery store.
I have a few more miles to travel to reach a grocery store, but should we be snowed in, as we often are when the wind whips angry mounds of snow over our driveway from the field across the highway – we are prepared,, and yes, should twenty people drop in for dinner, I can serve a proper five-course meal. I guess you could say, it was ingrained in me at a young age to always be well prepared.
Why Keep A Pantry?
There are many reasons why I keep a pantry – to save money, to have my family’s favourite snacks on hand, and to have food for times when money is tight or travel difficult. All great reasons, but the most important reason for me is so that I can make whatever dish I am craving for dinner and not worry because I have all the supplies I need at hand. Whether you live in the city or the country, pantries are a great resource for your family to have. Every pantry is different, mine is quite different from my parents, or even that of my grandparents, however, there are some key pointers I can share with you to make the most out of your pantry.
1. Stock only what you use – There are many lists available on the web stating what items should be stocked in a pantry, but there is no point in stocking items that your family will never use. Think about what types of meals you make, canned foods or baking supplies that you use that would be handy to have in the house. Stock up on the household goods you use every day – toilet paper, Kleenex, paper towels, and cleaners. In our home, we use a fair amount of canned and dried beans, so I ensure all of our favourites are in stock – lentils, black beans, chickpeas, etc.
2. Buy items on sale – When items are on sale stock up, but only buy items that you will use. If cake mixes are on sale, but you rarely use them, buying any more than one is not a good deal. Pantries, when properly stocked, can save you a lot of money. I make it a rule to try to never run out by keeping stock. When I am starting to run low on something, I add it to a running list that I carry with my regular shopping list. When the items go on sale, which they inevitably do, I restock my shelves. Sometimes, whether needed or not, a great deal is a great deal, and I cannot pass it up. To my husband’s dismay, one year I found a 75 per cent off deal on Bounty, and I swear we didn’t buy paper towels for over a year.
3. Take inventory and rotate your stock – To restock missing items and prevent having out-dated stock on your shelves, you need to be pro-active. Canned and packaged goods should be neatly stocked by expiry dates, with new items placed behind the ones you already have on the shelf. At least twice a year, you should go through your pantry. You may find interesting things you forgot you bought, or items close to their expiry. Make a note of items you want to use up and make meals with them in the upcoming weeks. If they are items you don’t use any more, donate them to a food hamper.
4. Know a product’s shelf life – Most food items have best before dates but know what items will last longer. Some foods can be frozen to increase their shelf life. Bread, milk, and cheese are items that can be frozen if you can’t use them prior to their expiry. Pre-made meals, vegetables and fruits are also great to have on hand in the freezer, just be sure to mark the date that they were frozen.
I never buy my meat at regular price, Stores will clear out meats at up to 50% off if they are near expiry. As long as they have not been previously frozen, you can safely freeze them for later use. This is especially great for expensive meats like lamb or Grade A cuts of beef.
5. Store items properly – Put freezer paper over meats to prevent freezer burn. Place flour, sugar, rice, and pasta in plastic containers (or freeze them) to prevent bugs or rodents. Living in the country, I keep almost everything in a plastic tote or glass container to prevent attracting any little undesirables.
6. Don’t be afraid to store fresh items – I still have four large freezer bags of carrots from my garden last fall in my fridge downstairs; they will last late into spring or longer. It took me a few years to perfect it, but now we can enjoy fresh carrots from our garden all year long. If stored properly, potatoes, onions, squash and carrots can all last through the winter, so plant more and spend less.
7. Stay Organized – A well-organized pantry makes everything so much easier! Items can be located quickly, you can take a visual inventory each time you go shopping, and items with approaching expiry dates are found faster.
If you are thinking about starting your own pantry, just get started slowly and don’t be discouraged. It’s not something you can build up in one or two shopping trips. It takes time, and trial and error. Once you have a well organized, stocked pantry, you will wonder how you ever survived without one.