Monday, July 14, 2008

Recession Ponderings #7 -- Basic Pantry Items (other than baked goods)

If I were to take a peek into most pantries, their shelves of items for baking will look pretty close to my own. Other than the variety of spices, extracts, dried fruit, chips, etc., it all comes down to... flour, sugar, salt, and the various sources of leavening.

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.
If you look at the picture above, you will see a lot of various cans of Red Gold tomatoes. I use them a LOT and I stock up when they are on a buy one get one free sale. That is the only way I can afford them and they are my favorite canned tomato. That picture also shows a lot of canned pumpkin which is very nutritious and I use in baking all year round. I bought a lot of them on sale after the Holidays.

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.


Anonymous said...

Your pantry looks great, so nice and organized (your own little store). I like the idea of using the totes to store extras as you are. My food stock-up is smaller right now, but I hope to slowly build it as I can a little more each week.

Brenda, I have a question - I do have a little room to store items on my attached porch, but there is no heating/cooling there so temps can get extreme. We do store water and beverages out there but not really anything else. It's about the only area I could put up some shelves. How might you utilize such a space?

cheri said...

Since we just moved here less than 3 months ago, I am slowly but surely building my pantry again.

My goal is to get my pantry 'deep' enough that I only need to do major shopping once a month.

Staying out of the store saves money.

Thanks again for the great tips!

Sharon said...

Hi Brenda...just stopping to say hello!What a nice,organized pantry you have.Love it!Blessings~Sharon

Kelly said...

Oh so many many good points here!
I need to keep pumpkin on hand too, and the cold and flu section is a great idea, for those times you do not feel like making the home made soups or running out to get the things you need, crackers etc. Great ideas!


lady jane said...

I have such a small pantry area so my choosing and storing must be carefully considered. I hope you don't mind me envying your gorilla shelves. :o)

Kim said...

Thanks for the wonderful post Brenda! I really enjoy and learn alot from these posts. I also wanted to add I store my flour, grains and sugars in picnic coolers. I've never had a bug problem and if we get water in our basement I know the contents stay dry! HTH someone. Blessings, Kim

Mrs. K's Lemonade Stand said...

It’s amazing how important a good pantry can become. Mine is part of my “life-line” to keeping my home organized. I loved your pictures, by the way! :)

Daughter of the King said...

What a great Pantry and motivation and ideas..I do not have much room..but I am thinking right now of ways of storing in other places, safely...I think I can come up with some ideas...
these are great and timely posts..

Lovella said...

Thank you so mucf for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I so appreciate it.
I love a good stocked pantry. Seeing yours makes me want to go and give mine a wee bit of a tidy. If there is stuff in there that I can't see. . well it won't do me much good. I think keeping a list would be a good idea if I could be consistent about it.
Thank you again for stopping by.

Peggy Jo said...

So clearly written! I did my pantry deepening backwards, and there are still a few bulging cans and suspect bags of Ramen noodles (which we found a couple of us can't eat - too much salt) that I've overlooked in the storage room. Sigh. I'm starting up again, hopefully doing it more rationally. You help me a lot! LOL! I'm looking orward to your discussion of the hospitality pantry.

Jenny said...

Dear Brenda,

This is my first time to write. Thank you for your ministry. You have been a great ministry to me.

Christ Love,

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

I'm sitting here thinking how cool it is that you can use your garage for extra storage. Your system looks very good to me!

Still working on deepening the pantry here, thanks to you. You'll think that I'm a nut that I didn't know that cream of mushroom soup or cream of chicken could be made from scratch. I mean, I knew it, but it doesn't even enter my thinking much. Campbells gal here.

This all reminds me so much of the late 70s and early 80s when my pastor was preaching this kind of thinking from the pulpit.

Bren said...

I like the idea of having a pantry list. I think I will make one up. I am low on everything...I have been buying what I need, and not keeping my eye out for sales to stock up...thanks for the reminder to keep my pantry stocked.
Your system is wonderful!!

Manuela said...

Your pantry loooks so nice and organized! I wish I was able to use my garage but it does get hot in there july/august and pretty cold in Jan/Feb so I don't think it would be a safe place to store food.

Having a well stocked pantry has really helped me keep my grocery budget low even though costs are rising. Which is good because everything from sanitation, water, electricity & car insurance has gone up in the past month!


Mama Squirrel said...

I'd like to link to your pantry posts--they look great!