Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pantry talk - getting started and keeping up a pantry

Well, I am still borrowing Christopher's laptop so I'm quickly writing out another post while I have access. It appears the mother board on our computer fried, which happened the last time we had a bad virus. I'm liking Mac instead of Windows all the time. :)

I've almost always kept some kind of a pantry, deepened only as space and finances at the time allowed. My parents always purchased seasonally as my father worked building houses and was laid off around Christmas each year. So I was used to them stocking up and then living from the freezer and pantry come winter. Both sets of parents went through the Depression... both kept fairly good sized pantries and had gardens when possible (my in-laws had a big garden each year even though they lived "in town").

Now, I know there is lots of information on the sites linked to on the side bar but I'll give a general overview. First, I'd designate an area for a pantry. In my case, the only place to put a couple of big shelves was in the garage next to the wall which has the door going into the family room. That section of the garage is least affected by weather. I live far enough in the North that I only have to be concerned about high temps and humidity about two months a year. I do have to be concerned about rodents so I keep mice poison behind Rubbermaid containers where mice can get in but neighborhood cats and dogs can't.

I also use other spaces in the house when necessary, all my spices and some of my items needed for baking are on the tall indoor pantry. I have shelves in my kitchen where I keep large jars and tins of flour, sugars, oats, wheat, Splenda, tea, etc.

I'd first purchase one extra of those items that are:

1) Items I don't want to run out of (ie: TP, dishwashing or dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, baking supplies, canned fruits or veggies, meat in the freezer, eggs and milk in the frig, items needed to make my favorite meals, etc); and

2) Decide on what foods take priority, where I want to begin building up for at least one month's worth (ie: extra baking soda, an extra baking powder, extra vanilla, flour, different sugars, chocolate chips, etc... those items needed to bake just about anything). I'd deepen that section of the pantry further when possible.

Right now I have enough items for baking to last a few months if I don't bake often. Used to I'd have at least six months worth of these items. My next pantry goal is to purchase extra flats of canned green beans and fruit to "put back". Otherwise, I keep about six or seven cans of each on the shelf. As I said... get started with what you can and then deepen as time and income permits.

One thing about setting up a pantry is that it makes you think, you must look at how you cook and what you cook (eating in general) . There are basics that everyone should store like at least a few extra bottles vegetable oil, extra virgin olive oil (if you use it), salt and pepper, etc. Otherwise it becomes very personal. For further inspiration, check out the links on the sidebar where there are plenty of lists.

This area is so personal, what is essential to begin with in my family may be a low priority for you. For instance, when I had a young child in the house, I ordered Amy's mac & cheese by the CASE from my co-op (no artificial food colorings). :)

When we had a regular weekly income, I stocked the pantry in one of two ways:

First: I'd budget the same amount for groceries each week and after I purchased what was necessary for that week, I'd spend the remaining amount budgeted for stock up. Or,

Second: If I was on a tight budget, I'd purchase what was necessary and then also budget a certain amount to stocking the pantry each week... whether $5.00, $10.00, or $20.00... whatever I could afford consistently. It is amazing how the pantry comes together when a consistent effort is made to begin and deepen one.

Since my goal is to purchase for the pantry (on sale) as much as possible and then shop the pantry when an item is needed, the money allotted to my pantry purchases were usually for items on sale. If I notice the grocery store is having a significant sale on an essential item I use a lot, sometimes I'll use whatever money I have available and stock at that time even if it means I have to economize and eat cheap very cheap that week! It is well worth it in the long run.

Although I try to buy as much on sale as possible, there are those times I run out and have to pay full price where I know I can purchase a product at the best price but I don't stock up. For instance if I was at Meijer's and I needed flour I would pick up one or two five pound bags of King Arthur because they have the cheapest prices for that flour in town, anyway (or I'll buy a cheaper brand elsewhere). Same with Target, if I was there I'd purchase one or two bottles of Seventh Generation dishwashing liquid since they have the cheapest price of all the stores (or I'll buy one bottle of Dawn or Joy elsewhere).

If I have even a little extra money, I check the meat aisle of my neighborhood store for non advertised "Manager specials". I don't have much in the way of "stock up" funds available right now but I checked the meat aisle of my neighborhood grocery this week when I'd stopped for milk and a few fresh veggies to make a pasta salad. They had my favorite round roast on sale half price so I bought three of them, slipped each into a gallon size Zip Lock bag when I arrived home and put them in the freezer. They will later be put in a Crock Pot "as is" with a can of Cream of Mushroom soup or they will be cut up into large cubes to be used for oven stew (at a fraction of the price of "stew meat"). Either way, each roast will give me at least two meals.

I don't serve meals with meat every evening and when I do, I use meat in recipes that stretch it as much as possible. Still... it makes meal planning much easier when I have various types of meat in the freezer! Yesterday evening I was not feeling well at all but I was able to pull a package of cooked turkey breast from the freezer (I "cubed" a lot of turkey breast the last time I baked a turkey, put some in quart sized Zip Lock bags for individual recipes, and then put all those bags in a gallon size Zip Lock bag for extra protection and to keep them all together).

I had all the ingredients for my Chicken/Turkey Dressing Casserole on pantry shelves and in the bread box so I could assemble it in minutes and pop it in the oven, even though I was having a hard time standing up! (Just sinus trouble with the changing weather but it makes my head hurt and makes me very queasy.)

If one wanted to deepen their pantry as quickly as possible, it is necessary to look at your grocery list and through the recipes you use the most often. Then decide how much you want to put back (or deepen) each food item. Continue purchasing the items until you have the amount you want and then rotate... rotate... rotate. Use the oldest and place the newest in the back of the shelf.

To give an example, I like to keep various pastas,noodles, beans, rice (although I don't use much rice... freeze brown rice if you don't use it often), canned tomatoes... both whole tomatoes and Italian style, canned "cream of" soups (although I used to make my own white sauce and add the ingredients), canned fruits and veggies, condiments, and other items which make up all or part of my most used recipes.

I also keep on hand extra flour, sugars, honey (local), chocolate chips when I find them on sale, dried fruit like cranberries and cherries, chopped nuts when on sale, cake mixes I use in recipes purchased cheap, canned pie filling I use in recipes, mini marshmallows used in recipes, etc. Basically I like to keep things on hand to cover almost any baking recipe. Home baked goods are inexpensive and can have much more nutrition than those bought at the store (not to mention how expensive store bought baked goods can be and that homemade often taste better).

I stock up on tea when I find it on sale, as well as coffee. I'm afraid I've gone back to plebeian coffee again but what the hey, I'd rather have Folgers than nothing at all (and they've done a good job with their more modern use of darker beans).

In the freezer, I keep meat and frozen veggies purchased on sale. I place two or three packages of both salted and unsalted butter in a gallon size Zip Lock bag and keep butter in the freezer when purchased on sale. I like to keep a few packages of frozen fruit (blueberries and cherries mostly) to make a coffeecake and one or two cartons of Cool Whip which is not real cream but still tastes good in recipes and is often found on sale. :)

In the frig, I try to keep three dozen eggs (they store long past their sell by date if kept in their carton), cream cheese (which has a long shelf life in the frig), yogurt (which also lasts long after the sell by date... a health food store owner once told us we could safely eat yogurt weeks after the sell by date), sour cream, condiments, etc.

When I have the money, I like to purchase items for the Hospitality Pantry... or I'll make certain I have some extra cookies or cake in the freezer. Sigh... my only problem with this is I've found frozen sugar goodies are just as good as those defrosted and I need to stay away from them.

I'm still working on having a week's worth of foods that don't need to be cooked, in case of emergency. When I had a house that had a separate room for a pantry in the basement... I had one year's worth of bulk items from my co-op and about three months worth of other foods (rotated and date marked). Now I deepen the pantry, use what is in it all up, deepen the pantry, use it... well, you get the idea.... and uh... no, I'm not a Mormon (but some of the best info is available on websites by Mormons).

Which reminds me of what store I was forgetting in another post! I often purchase bread from the bread outlet store (where they sell their past date bread). I get all my hamburger and hot dog buns there for about 49 cents a package as well as my regular sliced bread, then slip each package into an old bread wrapper to double wrap it before placing in the freezer.

Last time I was there, the date on the sliced bread was just one day less than on a loaf of the same bread I had just seen at the grocery store (at a fraction of the price). I do like to make my bread off and on but having it in the freezer helps a lot, too.

Hmmm... what else? I do remember being asked what I liked about Trader Joe's. I especially like their coffee, their olive oil, and boxes of broth... all at prices much lower than the health food store.

Once again, I'm typing quickly as I have computer access so please forgive typos and grammar errors!


Gumbo Lily said...

Excellent tips! Thank you for sharing your ideas.


ConnieB said...


Eight O'Clock coffee saved me a lot of money lol.

I was buying starbucks, and Gevalia, which quickly became much too expensive.

Eight O' Clock's Colombian brand was just rated the #1 tasting coffee available in supermarkets. I buy their regular coffee though, can't vouch for the Colombian.)

Of course, they promptly raised the price a dollar a bag when that happened, but they have also been including a dollar off coupon printed on the inside of the bag for now. I buy it cheapest at Walmart.

LOL. I'm telling you all this because you said you switched back to Folgers.

If you're going to drink plebeian coffee (I am still giggling you are brilliant!) Then you may want to grab a small bag of the eight o'clock and try it out when you're done with the Folgers ;p

One coffee lover to another, wanted to share.

Vee said...

Such a comprehensive post! I learned something today about this putting back. I need to be putting back things on sale. Duh! I've not been consistently doing that. When soups were on sale at Wal*Mart for 50¢ a can, I should have bought several flats of them because I use them so often.

I just bought King Arthur flour at a warehouse store yesterday and was I ever shocked...the price has gone up 75 per cent since the last time I had to buy flour. Yikes!

Thanks for all the wonderful links in your sidebar and all the space that you give to this discussion.

Sorry about your computer...

Hope that Christopher is feeling better and better every day!

Bernideen's Tea Time Blog said...

Wow..this was like reading a book! I always dreamed of living in an old Victorian house with a walk in pantry! Maybe in heaven!

Thanks for the great tips and suggestions.

the pleasures of homemaking said...

Thanks for all the good info! My pantry is looking pretty low now and I appreciate all your tips. ConnieB I'll have to pick up some Eight O'Clock as I have a coupon and give it a try. We switched to Kroger Brand but honestly it needs a lot of flavored creamer! I don't know which is worse spending more on creamer or spending more on coffee!

Sorry about your computer!


Sandy said...

Good info, as always. I've responded with a post on my own blog.

Anonymous said...

I, too, like 8 o'clock coffee, but I must say it is best if you buy the whole bean and grind it yourself b/c the "ground" is a bit washed out in my opinion. Two of our grocery stores regularly have it for BOGO so I stock up at that time. We also warm the leftover coffee in the microwave so we save money that way too.
Mrs. L.

Anonymous said...

As you said everyone has different needs in stocking up. We use so little oil of any kind I only buy one when I am almost out of it. I don't want it to sit and not be used and the 'best used by' date runs out! :) We substitute applesauce or flax etc for most of the oil or eggs in recipes. Having a Cadberry chocolate bar though in the freezer "for the emergency chocolate attack!" though is something we think is esential to keep!! ;) Like many others I too would love to have a place to stock all in one place. It would be much easier to see what we have etc. I do keep a list of what and where it is but still... Jody

dreamsbookstea said...

Mrs. L,

If you can purchase an insulated coffee carafe, I've found it very helpful. You charge it with hot water while your coffee is brewing. Then place your left over hot coffee in the charged carafe. I've found the coffee at 5 pm to be still hot and fresh as when I made it at 7 am. It also does not have that slightly stale reheated taste.

Anonymous said...

I also have a pantry system going for our family of 10. Mine includes a free standing cupboard and two freezers.
I am one of those that goes to Aldi first. Their prices match the sale prices in my area and they keep me from overbuying because of my idea that an item might be "scarce" at that price when it is on sale at another store. I consider myself a good shopper but I can get taken in if I'm not careful. lol


~~Deby said...

Thank you Brenda..for being so practical and REAL through are simplyfying something that can be so overwhelming at times..I appreciate all the work you put into these posts.

Tracy said...

Brenda, I am so enjoying your pantry posts. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. :)