Saturday, May 14, 2011

The pantry lifestyle (Repost)

As I've put together pantries through the years, thought about them, studied other people's pantries, etc... I have come to the conclusion that there is a pantry personality.  I know in my case it was inherited but some seem to have caught it as one finds themselves with a cold after spending time with a sneezing friend.  Either way, it's not a bad gene to have been birthed or caught.

One develops a stocking up way of thinking and after many successes and failures, comes to know what works for their family and... what does not.  A person with the pantry gene finds it hard to pay full price for a can of tomatoes or deboned chicken breasts for they are always on the hunt for the stock up sales, knowing these two items have a rotational sale calendar.

Their purchases are made when that certain price shows up in the grocery store newspaper section.  Other items are more elusive in their stock up prices so an extra can or two or jar or two or sack or two... whatever... find their way in our grocery carts when we have a little extra grocery money to work with... such as the large size of mild olive oil.

Sometimes it requires a lot extra with the co-op orders for those fortunate enough to have one in their community.  One may be eating out of their pantry as they fork over that $100 (or more) check but the return is much like a garden where one plants a seed and ends up with dozens of zucchini.... when the 25 lb. and 50 lb. bags of grains arrive, along with all natural raw sugar, honey, and other basic ingredients... one feels much like the pioneer women of old as they pour enough oats for the entire season in their waiting buckets.

The pantry lifestyle manifests itself in the way we love to cook as we tend to shop the pantry to see what is available and in the cookbooks we peruse.  While I love glossy cookbooks and I do enjoy getting caught up in the occasional long recipe... I find myself stopping most often at the recipe which is simple and based on ingredients I normally keep on hand.  I love to find new recipes which use pantry favorites.

I have found ethnic cookbooks with real and not Americanized recipes to be treasure troves of simple and inexpensive ideas.  So are cookbooks with stories by those closest to the dirt... farm men and women, Amish and Mennonite ladies (especially their mother's and grandmother's passed down recipes), regional cookbooks, whole foods cookbooks, etc.  

There are many new-ish cookbooks out today inspired by the return to locally grown non-processed foods... such as those by Jamie Oliver... albeit their recipes may not all be inexpensive but the simplest among them are (not to mention they provide great ideas from which one can piggy back and steal borrow).

I must admit my pantry has changed through the years just with the various stages of our life.  Since most of my cooking is done for hubby and I these days, you will find more bean (and other legume) dishes on the table. Christopher does not like most beans although I believe it is the texture of most he does not like because he is crazy about hummus and tolerates a few black beans in burritos and tacos.  :)

Since we are having many more vegetarian meals, the pantry lifestyle has come to include a small garden.  It definitely is time to bring back the Victory Garden and the enemy is the rising cost of food everything... and plastic tomatoes in winter.  Our small backyard garden provides seasonal fresh veggies and much needed exercise.  Each year I am surprised by how much even a small garden can produce. 

Thanks to my son and daughter (and their friends), I have been introduced to a variety of ethnic foods and spices which make my heart sing and often my pocketbook, too, for many tend to be fully vegetarian or use small amounts of meat.  I often smile when using cardamon, coriander, garam masala, and even simple garlic or ginger for these were foreign to my mother's kitchen (garlic powder and ground ginger, yes... real garlic or ginger, no).

Of course, having that pantry gene colors every area of my life and when you combine it with the inherited (and now refined through the years) thrift gene... well, it is an adventure waiting to happen... and skills we all need more of in this season of food shortages and increasing costs.  There is always something new to learn or long unused skills to dust off and bring back.

I have learned not to put off basic skills until I may need them later (baking bread, gardening, canning, and all kinds of important "from scratch" skills) for we become better at everything we do the more we actually do it.  At least I learn better from hands on experience.

Have you ever been handed down a recipe from a mother or grandmother and wondered why it does not taste the same when you make it?   After years and years of cooking, I have come to realize a large part of a recipe is not shown on a card or typed in an e-mail... it is the experience in making the dish.

I've been thinking of this as Christopher wants some cooking lessons before moving into his own apartment (with friends) come August.  How do I get him to understand the importance of browning the meat before making the soup or how bread feels when it has been kneaded enough or when to take the skillet off the electric burner and just let the omelet set a few minutes or what a cake looks like in the oven when it is done?  All skills needing practice.

Actually, I have enjoyed learning the old skills in this modern world.  I started making bread when we lived in Married Student Housing at the University long long ago... and continued from there (wishing I had learned even more through the years!)

Rather than letting ourselves get all upset about today's fiscal realities, we can do what the women of old did as they rolled up their sleeves and decided they would not only survive but do so with a certain amount of... panache.

I was just reminding my husband recently, there is a reason the kitchens of the 30s and 40s were so bright and colorful... the women needed the cheerful surroundings in the midst of war and Depression... my kitchen fits in just fine as does my 2011 Victory Garden.  :)


Katie said...

Lovely post! You write so beautifully. And you are so right. Women now (especially those my age 20's) have lost the art of homemaking/cooking and need to regain the skills of our great grandmother's.

Living on Less Money said...

Great post!