The Pantry

I may be organized in many parts of my life.

I may know where most every little widget and gadget in my kitchen lives, and I may know where I put the tax forms and where obscure bits of medical equipment live, but my pantry is a mess.

Behold the disarray, the mess, the jumble.

Chaos lives in my pantry closet.

Believe it or not, this is the improved version; when we moved into the house, the closet consisted of three shelves, nailed into the walls, unpainted and very deep. The top one was over my head, so when I put stuff on it, if it fell backwards, I would never see it again.

Now, there are shelves, baskets, racks, and all sorts of things and it is still in a state of perpetual slovenliness.

I feel like if people were to look in there, they would think me some sort of slatternly housekeeper, and would be loathe to eat at my table.

That’s why I tend to keep people out of there.

The bad thing is, this is not the only place where foodstuffs are stored in this house. There is the upstairs kitchen, and the laundry room next door. That is where the big rice barrels (yes, barrels, as in plural, as in, I keep a lot f rice in the house.) Down in the basement, there are a few boxes of dry goods–beans, dried rice noodles, wheat noodles, and a few stray canned goods.

I really am not some sort of survivalist freak, y’all, just in case you were thinking that. I’m not sure why I keep so much food in the house, except that we went through a year with my Dad unemployed and there wasn’t much food in the house. I remember too many dinners of pinto beans and cornbread in a row, with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches day after day for lunch, and only cereal for breakfast. I remember our pantry shelves being quite barren, and the worry lines the crept between Mom’s eyebrows at the grocery store.

I think that is why I keep so much food around.

I think that is also why I tend to give so much food away: if there is a food drive, I bring bags of food. If donations are collected for homeless shelters or food banks, I give money. When I can, I volunteer at soup kitchens, and make boxes of food for folks to take home.

Of course, all of this explains my tendencies to stockpile food, but it doesn’t really go into why I keep my pantry in such a mess.

That part, I cannot figure out.

In fact, now that I have revealed to the world my inability to keep a tidy pantry closet, I believe I will force myself to get up and straighten it.

Just to, you know, save face or something.


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  1. And here I was thinking that your pantry doesn’t look bad. You can see everything and find everything. Ours is really a mess – but we can stack stuff up to the very top with no problem (hubby and I are both 6’1″) and so we do.

    And then I end up having to dig through stuff to find what I’m looking for.

    Comment by Kymster — January 24, 2006 #

  2. Haha, this is great. Mine is no better (and certainly not as well-stocked). I’m glad to see that not everyone has a picture-perfect pantry. 😉

    Comment by Allen Wong — January 24, 2006 #

  3. Barbara, may I suggest a Tupperware modular storage system? I keep my soup ingredients in them for easy access and stock monitoring purposes. Anyway, as long as you know where you keep everything, a little bit of organized chaos is ok…Anyway, this post is timely because I meant to ask you to show us how your fridge and pantry/larder look like because I’m just amazed at how many ingredients you have in the house, from western to Chinese, Thai and Indian. That is not including the baking related stuff. Shirley

    Comment by Shirley — January 25, 2006 #

  4. What? It looks fine. Mine is much more jumbled than that. Let’s not get all Sleeping With The Enenmy with all the food items arranged perfectly. No!! That way lies madness.


    Comment by Sher — January 25, 2006 #

  5. Barbara, count me in the same boat. About three times a year I empty out all the cabinets and move stuff around so it’s more “logical” but somehow I can NEVER find the one essential ingredient I need in times of pressure. Between the inevitable lapses in organisation and the growing conviction that my logic was faulty I end up starting all over again. In fact, I feel the urge coming on me now…

    Wish I had rice barrels though. That would be so cool.

    But don’t tell my husband, he’s still getting over the wormery that arrived one day unannounced (to him).

    Comment by Meg — January 25, 2006 #

  6. Chaos breeds great Chefs…

    Comment by The Bachelor Cook — January 25, 2006 #

  7. Well, me too. I actually enjoy overhauling my chaos periodically, but I have to be in the mood. Then…it slides downhill, until I’m back where I started.

    I have been trying to channel my hoarding instincts into making preserves.I like to make little rows of my jars of jam, chutney,, home canned tomatoes, etc. I am motivated to keep that part of my pantry sheves neat, so I can gloat over them.

    But it is just such a nice feeling to have an array of good pantry goodies like Italian tuna, capers, anchovies, and the like, and pasta, so you know that you can always make something good. I don’t think I can be cured.

    Comment by lindy — January 25, 2006 #

  8. Ah, is a genetic failing. For the most part, however, I know where everything is, although my “system” is peculiar to me. My fridge, alas, as you know all too well, is in the same state, usually. Good food, however, is not the result of efficient storage; it is the result of love, creativity, and daring. Love, Judy.

    Comment by yourauntjudy — January 25, 2006 #

  9. Ah, Kymster–to be so tall. That is how tall I wanted to be, but nature went against me and I stopped at around 5’6″, which is perfectly respectable, but still.

    To my eyes it is quite messy, but I am glad to hear from others that it isn’t so bad.

    Shirley–that is a good idea, and that is how I store flours, rice, and such in the utility room. Cereals and pastas I haven’t gone to that system, yet, but I am thinking of it.

    Sher–you made me laugh! Allen–you will get there. Eventually you will have a pantry crammed with every odd ingredient you can find. Trust me–you already have the instinct in you, in time, it will grow.

    Ah, Meg–you do worm composting? How cook is that! But, yes, I can see the Critic nearly having a coronary over that surprise! Rice barrels, however, are not so much of a surprise. They do not wiggle, you see, nor are they alive.

    Lindy–my preservationist instinct is mostly housed in the freezers. I have roasted peppers, chiles of every sort, sauces, pesto, corn, tomatoes and the like in there.

    And spices. And catnip, and other stuff. And a lot of chicken bones that need to be turned into stock soon.

    Hey, Aunt Judy! I wondered when I’d hear from you again, and am not surprised that you chimed in on this topic.

    I know where most everything is, but now that I have Morganna here, sometimes my system goes awfully awry, and it wasn’t even me. Sometimes, it was her!

    Or Zak.

    But you are right–love, creativity and daring are what rule the day when it comes to cookery. Knowlege plays a part, and control, but that control does not have to extend to the panty.

    I guess I just always feel my chefs in the back of my head screaming at me to clean it up, and I feel guilty.

    Comment by Barbara — January 25, 2006 #

  10. You clearly don’t even know what disarray, mess, jumble means! And you DON’T want to see the main kitchen closet that was supposed to be a broom closet but serves as our pantry – although we do, for the most part, know where everything is in that disarray. (Although a couple of years ago I did find way at the back an ANCIENT can of pumpkin that was well on its way to exploding. I hope I never see a can that is basically football shaped again….


    Comment by llizard — January 25, 2006 #

  11. I clipped this quote from Sydney J. Harris and gave it to my boss one day (his office looks like a bomb went off in a paper factory – this also pertains to the state of my pantry:) “Those proud of keeping an orderly desk never know the thrill of finding something they thought they had irretrievably lost”

    Comment by Maureen — January 25, 2006 #

  12. LOL!

    I love that one.

    Right now, I just “cleaned” off my desk–it is now down to a somewhat tidier version of disarray. But what with blogging, writing ficton, and writing and editing two other blogs now–I have a lot of weird clutter in and around my primary desk.

    Thank you for the very necessary laugh today!

    Comment by Barbara — January 25, 2006 #

  13. I buy all-purpose flour fifty pounds at a time and keep it in an old zinc-lined metal garbage can. In the laundry room.

    I tried keeping rice in garbage cans too, but I didn’t go through it fast enough and it turned weird.

    At least you have a pantry. I don’t, and everything is shoved into the cabinets nearest the kitchen sink pretty much any old way.

    Comment by Annalucia — January 26, 2006 #

  14. I eat more rice in this house than flour–except around the holidays. Then, flour becomes king, and butter is queen in this house. Most of the year, though, Annalucia–rice is the emperor. I think we eat it at least three times a week, sometimes five. We eat more rice than potatoes, that is for certain.

    In truth–I call it a pantry–but what it is, is an old broom closet that has been made over into a pantry.

    It just sounds nicer to call it a pantry.

    Now, in the house we owned before this one–that was a pantry and it rocked!

    Comment by Barbara — January 26, 2006 #

  15. You call that messy! At least things are pretty much upright.

    You haven’t seen my brother’s pantry, now that’s messy messy mess (too bad I don’t have a pic).

    Oh, congratulations on your blog award!!! I really really loved that article and I voted for it!

    Comment by Rose — January 26, 2006 #

  16. WoooHooo! AuntJudyI’veBeenLookingForYou…
    You qualify for the mom’s gang! Someday we’ll all get together for a picnic and toast to these writers (bloggers)chefs (cooks)and artisans!

    Barbara, think of it as pantry art. Bathroom medicine cabinets are also fun to capture! 🙂

    Comment by jen's mom — January 28, 2006 #

  17. Hey! It is Jen’s Mom! I didn’t know you read my blog! Welcome.

    And, here is the introduction: Aunt Judy, this is Jen’s Mom, (From “Life Begins At Thirty), Jen’s Mom, this is my infamous and quite beloved Aunt Judy.

    Comment by Barbara — January 31, 2006 #

  18. Hello Barbara,
    We’ve spoken on LJ once and I’ve been reading the archive of your wonderful journal. We share the experience of growing up in WV.

    I also tend to “stockpile” food. Having experienced too many days of empty refrigerator and beans for dinner I too keep much too much food around. My “pantry” consists of just about every shelf in my kitchen + two bookshelves in my dining room. Most of my kitchen gadgets live in a closet, from from my kitchen. Your pantry doesn’t look messy to me. 🙂

    Comment by Hannah — February 5, 2006 #

  19. Hello, Hannah!

    I think that folks who lived with some sort of deprivation at an early age are destined to stockpile food.

    Glad you are enjoying the archives–and I hope to see you are around LJ and here more often!

    Comment by Barbara — February 6, 2006 #

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