The rest of the pantry, however, is another story. Within the shelves of these pantry items, we will be able to tell a lot about a cook. For here will be located those items that make that cook unique. It also takes a little more time and attention but it is in this are of pantry planning one can save a lot of money and have the freedom for last minute menus.
My pantry is basically on two sets of Gorilla Shelves (that is a brand name) in the garage. In our bigger house, I had an entire room for a pantry. This works fine with limited space. I also have a deep freeze, the yellow freestanding "pantry" in my kitchen for all of the small stuff, my kitchen shelves, and if had to I would use the top shelves of closets for items I don't immediately need.
The above shelves work great for those items I need to keep on a daily basis. Should I be able to stock up a little more on food stuff, I would transfer some of the items on the right hand shelves to another place (since I don't have to be concerned about temperature, humidity, mice, etc. with them).
My pantry isn't very "deep", not nearly as much as I would like it to be. But one does the best they can given various circumstances. I have kept a pantry for so long now, I had to think through how and why I came to the decision as to what to stock. Here is what I came up with:
- I look through my typed grocery list for items I use on a regular basis.
- I looked through recipes I make the most for what I should store.
- I carefully watch for sales... the better the sale, the more I will purchase for the pantry.
On the bottom shelf shown above, I have (far left) a plastic tub that holds baking chips (ie: chocolate chips and other varieties). I have to keep them safe from critters. Next to it is a container that holds my 5 lb. bags of flour which have been kept in plastic grocery bags and stored in the freezer two or three days before joining the bags on this shelf (to help "debug" them). Those canned goods on the right are green beans and corn purchased at the autumn sales for a quarter a can. There are two stores in my area that have these sales once a year and that is when I stock up as much as I can afford.
These tubs are full of food being protected from critters, especially since they are on the bottom shelves. (I've even found a chipmunk in my garage!) The one on the far left holds various pastas. I've been able to stock up on excellent quality pasta on the 10 for $10.00 sales. The middle tub contains 2 lb. bags of brown sugar, confectioners sugar, and a few other baking items I wanted to keep safe. The two containers on the right (you can only see the container "out front" of the other) both contain oatmeal from the co-op. (The stain on the cement is where I dropped a bottle of Worcestershire sauce... trust me, that was a mess.)
Items I store other than what is used for recipes would be coffee... coffee... coffee... and tea.
I keep two stock up lists, one in my kitchen and the other in my scrapbook journal. Both of these are a basic list of items I like to have in my pantry. These lists were made after looking at the three places I mentioned above (with bullet points to make them easier to read). When I have extra money come in or I see a spectacular sale at the grocery store, I look through my stock up list to see what is most important to purchase. My food version of my Priority List.
That is why I talk about "deepening the pantry". I rarely would purchase anything not on my stock up list. If I did, it would be because I had a lot more money to work with so I would add items that are not essential but "nice to have". Each pantry will be unique because each cook is different so what is essential to me, may be something you would not use.
For instance, various kinds of canned tomatoes are very important to me but my daughter can't use them at all. She also makes her own "cream of soups" from scratch but I keep the basics (Cream of Mushroom, Cream of Chicken, etc.) for recipes for those times I'm too tired to make my own.
Our pantry can change a bit by the seasons, too. Summer will be the time we use as much fresh produce as possible. Although I usually make my own soups, I keep a good selection of canned soups and broth in the pantry in cold weather. Once again, for those times I don't feel like cooking. I also keep a "cold and flu" section of the pantry during "that time of year" with plenty of canned chicken noodle soup, crackers, and other items one needs when feeling miserable (especially if the one feeling miserable is the cook).
I'm hoping to do some canning and freezing this year if at all possible. I have kept all my canning supplies "just in case".
If you are just beginning to keep a pantry, begin keeping your weekly (bi-weekly or whatever) grocery lists. You will see a pattern of those items used the most. Also, write down the ingredients of at least ten of the main dishes you use often. What ingredients can be purchased on sale and then kept in a pantry? Also, as you work through a recipe from time to time, notice if there is anything it would be beneficial to keep one or two extra on hand even if you don't make this dish often. For instance, I keep a jar of pimentos on hand even though I only use them in potato salad. If I'm making the potato salad at the last minute, I don't want to have to go into town to buy them and they don't take much room in my yellow pantry to have on hand.
After awhile, it will be possible to "buy for the pantry" when you find items on sale and "shop the pantry" when making meals. By keeping a good pantry, you are able to wait for your most used items to go on sale and you have items on hand when you decide at the last minute to make a certain dish. It makes you able to become much more creative in the kitchen!
Of course, with food prices going up all the time and the possibility of shortages being talked about... now is the best time to start and/or deepen your pantry if at all possible.
I'll talk more next time about nonfood items and a hospitality pantry.