Tips for Organizing Your Pantry

Last week, I was decluttering with Marie Kondo.  This week, I decided to organize my pantry because I’m hoping it’s a potential solution to the perennial problem: what’s for dinner?  Or, rather, how can you feed the multitudes with canned food and corn starch?

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Because I appear to like to punish myself by taking advice from perfectionists whose standards I will never meet, I pulled out Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson.  Compared to Cheryl Mendelson, Marie Kondo is a happy go lucky, relaxed kind of a person, which gives you some idea of the psychic pain I put myself through to provide good copy for this magazine.

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Exacting she may be (gross understatement), but Mendelson is thorough as all get-out.  It’s no overstatement to say that her book is encyclopedic.  I’d wager that any question you may have about the art and science of keeping house can be answered by this book, and that is why I turned to it in my prandial hour of need.

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Canned, Bottled, Packaged and Dried Contents of a Well-Stocked Pantry

  • tomatoes, whole or diced
  • tomato paste
  • beans of all sorts (kidney, garbanzo, pinto, etc)
  • tuna fish or other canned fish
  • select fruits and vegetables
  • olive oil
  • vinegar
  • UHT milk or condensed milk (turn over once a month to keep solids from settling)
  • pickles, olives, salsa and other relishes
  • condiments
  • jams and jellies
  • syrups
  • canned broth
  • pasta
  • rice
  • cornmeal
  • breakfast cereals
  • flour
  • salt, pepper, herbs and spices
  • sugar (white, brown and powdered)
  • cornstarch
  • baking soda
  • baking powder
  • dried fruits

Oh, be joyful!  I have a well-stocked pantry without even trying!  The only thing missing in mine is cornmeal, and since I’m the only one who likes it, not a big problem feeding-the-multitudes-wise.  Combined with some long-lasting fresh foods (onions, garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes, eggs, cheeses) and frozen veggies, meats and fish, Mendelson points out that there are many meal possibilities in the pantry.

  • Fish chowder (onions, potatoes, celery, frozen fish, condensed milk)
  • Polenta with sausages or chick pea stew (onions, tomatoes, chick peas, dried apricots)
  • Omelette filled with vegetables and baked potato
  • Pasta with peas and ricotta or other cheese
  • Salade Nicoise (tuna, egg, green beans, white beans)

Some Fun Facts

  • The ideal temperature for the pantry is cooler than the temperature that’s typical in the average kitchen cupboards, which are subject to heat from the stove, appliances and task lighting.  Keep the pantry temperature between 10 and 20 degrees.
  • The mycotoxins produced by molds are carcinogenic.  Keep the pantry dry so that packaged and dried goods do not mold.
  • Light causes the deterioration of many foods like bottled vegetables, oils and flours.  Keep glass jars in the pantry, and keep the pantry dark.
  • Whole grain foods should be refrigerated or frozen.  The fats and oils in whole grain flours, cereals, brown rice and other grains can become rancid very quickly at room temperature.
  • Bread goes stale more quickly in the refrigerator than at room temperature on the counter.  Bread becomes stale quickly at temperatures just above freezing, and slowly at temperatures below freezing.  Either store bread at room temperature or freeze it.
  • Most spices can be kept at room temperature, but paprika, red pepper and chili powder should be refrigerated.
  • High-acid canned foods (tomatoes, fruits, sauerkraut, and any foods containing vinegar) should be kept on the shelf for no longer than 12-18 months.
  • Dust and crumbs that accumulate on pantry shelves can contain molds and microorganisms that can spread to the food stored in the pantry.  Keep the pantry shelves clean.

My joy began to diminish with that piece of information (add cleaning the pantry to the list of things to do), but I feel newly empowered to tackle dinner when I have not shopped.

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