It’s fall in most parts of the country, long past the point when our grandmothers and great grandmothers would have been well on their way to having a well stocked pantry for winter, but even so…tis the season and in this economy, we’ve got all the reason to stock up when we can. A well stocked pantry can often serve as an excellent hedge against economic disaster, and one that will often have much faster pay off than a savings account or even stock market investments.
You wonder about that?
Don’t wonder too long, because prices are rising even as you do your wondering! How often have you gone to purchase a frequently used item lately and noticed its gone up, often as much as fifty percent, in price? While those fifty percent hikes aren’t the norm, hikes of twenty five cents on a formerly dollar item are not uncommon these days, as gas, corn, wheat, and soybean prices continue to rise.
But, as we stock up our pantries, we also need to consider a few things, such as shelf life, before we get crazy and end up throwing away our “profits” because items have spoiled before we could use them. Most canned goods have a shelf life of twelve months, occasionally longer, but we don’t know how long they sat in the grocery store or in warehouses before we bought them. Some have expiration dates, some don’t. If the item does not have an expiration date on the can, using a permanent marker, write the month and year of purchase on the can. This will help you make sure items are properly rotated.
Make sure you use your older items first, this is accomplished easiest by putting new items behind and under the old ones. Don’t buy more than you can use before they expire, no matter how cheap they are! If you are approaching expiration dates and suspect you won’t get them all used, donate the extra to a food bank or your local church about 2 months before the expiration date. This gives the food bank or church time to distribute the item before it expires. This puts what could be waste to good use as well.
If you live in an area that weevils or grain beetles frequently invade pantries, prepare your dry goods to resist their attacks. Seal everything inside of heavy duty plastic or canisters. If necessary, cut out the directions for mixes and put inside the bag or canister with the mix. This includes flours, meals, cooked cereals, dry cereals, cake mixes, brownie mixes, cookie mixes, bread mixes, as well as herbs and spices. Frequent sources of an infestation include pet foods and bird seed. The best prevention? Freeze all dry goods, including pet foods, for 24 hours after purchase. This kills the eggs and prevents further infestation. The eggs are everywhere, and no matter how “good” your grocer is…infestations are highly possible. Freezing dry goods is an effective tool for prevention.
Your freezer is another place to stock up, and it’s far more cost effective to keep a full freezer below freezing than a nearly empty one, as air requires the freezer to work harder to maintain its temperature. Even filling the nearly empty freezer with jugs of water is more efficient than merely leaving it empty.
Don’t forget your spice cabinet in terms of stocking up. Finding herbs and spices on sale may not happen often, but there is also the option of buying in bulk and splitting it with a friend or relative. My favorite companies for mail order bulk spices and herbs? San Francisco Herb Company and Pendery’s. Herbs and spices are recommended to be used in 6-12 months, depending on the variety. However, with that recommendation aside, they last far longer than that, but do lose flavor and potency over time. Older herbs and spices may require a larger quantity to obtain the desired flavor. Always keep herbs and spices in tightly sealed containers in a dark cabinet. Don’t pour from the container into your soups or stews–measure out the amount into your hand away from the heat and steam of the food being prepared, or use a measuring spoon. Another option is to have small containers for use during cooking, keeping the bulk of the ingredient safely away from the steam and heat.
Whether you want to be prepared for a long cold winter or merely the coming year, stocking up is usually a good idea. It’s a habit passed down through the generations, that stocking of the pantry, and often in modern houses, we’re left without a pantry to stock. What then? Portable cabinets with doors or even open shelves can serve the purpose. Even shelves in a coat closet can become a sizable pantry. Many garages host a cabinet that has been designated as a pantry, which is fine as long as it is protected from freezing. Spare bedrooms and utility rooms are also other locations that often host that cabinet that hides the household’s pantry, as can a closet. Some families use the space under beds for storing cases of food, or behind a sofa. Be creative in finding space in your house, if need be. I’ve even seen a stack of cases of canned food covered with a table cloth and used as a side table beside a chair!
Stock up, save money, and be prepared for whatever comes your way!