Thursday, 21 August 2014

Confessions From My Larder

Opprobrious remarks have been forthcoming recently, about the state of my larder. Particularly when D has been trying to put away the contents of assorted shopping bags. An experience that has become increasingly reminiscent of a battle of some ferocity, without any obvious winner. And, in all fairness, I have to admit that the larder space has resembled something akin to preparations for a six-month siege in there or alternatively perhaps, the depositing area for some kind of foodie jumble sale. It's been like that for a while and extracting or searching for an elusive packet or jar of some ingredient lurking in this jungle has exacerbated what was already a crowded mess.

It had got so bad that you entered this walk-in cupboard at all, at your peril.  Cake tins that had been optimistically cantilevered on top of one another, would break loose from their tenuous moorings on a whim and catch the unwary a sudden and unexpected blow to the side of the head;

jars, piled at least three deep, teetered precariously and threatened an avalanche of glass and crab apple jelly when a hapless searcher after a replacement jar of Marmite, disturbed their serried ranks; bags of rice immured spice jars like sandbags awaiting a flood; tins of tomatoes and kidney beans jostled and elbowed their way among delicate packets of dried, pink rose petals, ruffled paper muffin cases and floaty, white rolls of rice-paper like a bunch of unruly football hooligans trampling a troupe of ballet dancers who had inadvertently found themselves on the terraces; cartons of UHT milk, bought in bulk for yoghurt-making, trying to get an inadequate toe-hold on the edges of shelves already full to bursting, were inclined to fall headlong and give the unwary a nasty bruise, on their way down. The floor was no better - inserted ingeniously among the wine bottles stored in their rack, were surreptitious rolls of baking parchment, clutches of freezer bags that had long since parted from their boxes and some very long, black, squid-ink spaghetti that I could find no easy home for on the shelves above. The five litre tin of olive oil (and a couple of smaller olive oil tins) stood like bruisers in the doorway and unfailingly stubbed your toe as you endeavoured to reach for something. The box in the back corner where I store small bottles of homemade sloe or blackberry gin was giving unwanted asylum to a number of spindly spiders and their friends. It was, in other words, a disgrace.

In the Second World War it was illegal to hoard food items and whenever I've come across references to that, I've felt uneasy. It's guilt. I fear, I may be a hoarder!

In my defence, I feel I should say that none of the things in the said larder are things I don't or won't use. Many of them have been bought because they were "on special offer" and buying three bags of flour, or rice, or whatever, for the price of two when you use flour, or rice, or whatever, all the time makes a lot of sense. Or I thought it did. Now I am not so sure.

In addition, living in a village where the nearest supermarket is a five mile drive away and working full-time to boot, means that I am simply not passing shops in the way that I did when we lived in London and wasn't working full-time. It makes sense to "have stocks" and run a proper store cupboard so that when I run out of an ingredient there's a spare one in the larder waiting. A spare one may be, but not a spare five, Mrs T!

And of course almost two shelves in my larder don't hold food at all - they support part of my collection of cookery books and it's very convenient having them there to hand. I probably have too many recipe books but they are my cooking friends and I like their company.

"What you need," both my best friend and my son told me, is a "stock-taking system set up on an Excel spreadsheet." The idea has something to recommend it but I know I'll never remember to update it and if that's the case, then, what's the point? As a compromise, I've taped up a handwritten list on the larder door itself, tallying what's in there and hope because it's on the spot, I will remember to use it to cross things off. (I've managed to cross off a tin of olives and one of tomatoes already, owing to H's pizza-making fest yesterday)  ; )

In the meantime, an exercise of sorting, tidying and rationalisation has taken place.  This, despite what you may think, is tidy!

And a systematic tally has been made and the arresting facts noted - a shameful roll-call of thirteen tins of chopped tomatoes, - thirteen! How can I have amassed thirteen tins of tomatoes?  - three kilos of porridge oats - I know you eat these for breakfast every day, Mrs T, but three kilos?! - five pounds of ground almonds - what are you thinking of making, macaroons for Britain? - six jars of olives - even H who adores olives doesn't eat them at that rate - and so on.

No more of these and their ilk will be bought until they have been eaten. No more jams or jellies will be made until those that remain from the last few years are down to single figures from the, slightly startling, figure of forty five or so currently up there.

The figure is actually more than forty five but my nerve for counting further quailed, when the tally reached forty five.

A cache of items that I feel are too elderly really to risk eating have had to be exiled to the food bin. Not as many as I feared though. Only some food colouring pastes whose "best-before dates" were well into the last century, a nearly empty jar of wild rice that I am sure is at least a decade old and a bottle of Worcestershire sauce which seemed to predate even having a sell-by date. Could have been worse. Could have been a lot worse! "Could have been Granny's jam cupboard!" H reminds me, conscious of a never-to-be-forgotten occasion when my mother produced from her cupboard a jar of ancient, homemade, plum jam, dated some thirty years previously. It was, remarkably enough, all right. A little stiff and dark after its long incarceration and needing the addition of a little boiling water to make it spreadable but otherwise perfectly good. Sell-by and best-before dates have their place but sealed tins and jars, I feel, can go some way beyond them. Not thirty years, normally, perhaps! And one has to use common sense and inspect "vintage" items for any sign of deterioration that might be harmful, obviously.

But I love my larder and the feeling that I can rustle up food without having to go shopping should need arise. I particularly love the fact that here, on its cool, dark, wooden shelves are stored things that I need no power supply or gizmo to preserve and that if the electricity or water supply fails for more than a few hours, (as it has done, in both cases, a number of times this last year), I can conjure up something good to eat by entering its friendly, hallowed space and raiding its inner sanctum.

As the year turns perceptibly, I have one eye on the coming autumn and winter and,perhaps in a rather old-fashioned way, I shall continue to cherish my hoard, but after the above saga of revelation, it aims to be a rather slimmer hoard than before!

Do you keep a store-cupboard in the old-fashioned sense of the word? Any secrets you've found that help you to manage it? All suggestions gratefully received!

And now I shall go and see what my larder's newly and pleasingly arranged shelves might suggest for supper. Possibly mushroom risotto, as I seem to have six bags of risotto rice and three of dried mushrooms!
E x