I began with the spice rack that hangs on the back of my pantry door. I remembered a quote that I had heard: ‘Some of your spices are as old as your children…’ I tried to remember when I had last used or bought each one and ruthlessly threw out the rest, making a note on the next weeks shopping list to buy more. I then scrubbed the shelves with hot soapy water to which a little lemon scented gum essential oil had been added and replaced them all in alphabetical order. I know it sounds anal, but it makes life a lot easier when you are cooking.
Shelf by shelf, I followed a similar routine:
Clearing shelves one at a time, I checked for best by and expiry dates. My best find was brandy snap baskets purchased for Christmas 2004! I discarded any food that shows signs of insects: cobwebs, mouse poo, white dust or small holes in grains and packets. Please throw away any dried herbs that are no longer green or spices that have little aroma, they will add nothing to your cooking except the texture of sawdust!
With my squirrel mentality, each year shelves of preserves slowly take over my life and pantry. With stone fruit season hurtling towards us, it was definitely time to do some sorting. I discard any preserves that have changed colour at the top of the jar, have no label or whose contents are runny or leaking or jars where the lids are showing signs of rust. Decide how much you can logically consume and donate the rest to family, friends and charities. I don’t take a lot of notice of dates on jam and marmalade unless they look odd; the high sugar content prevents spoilage. We have happily eaten marmalade 3 or 4 years old with no ill effects. This doesn’t apply if you make preserves which are low in sugar.
In flour bins you can use a sprig of bay leaves to help repel weevils or tape to the lid of jars. If you have open packets, roll the tops down and clip with a peg or secure with a rubber band and place in a sealed box or container, labeled with its contents.
If you have ants, a 50/50 mixture of borax and icing sugar laid on a lid on their trail will kill them. I like to wipe down the shelves every now and then with a damp cloth with a few drops of eucalyptus, tea tree or lavender essential oil. Cockroaches don’t like this although you may need to place some contained baits if they become a problem. All insect and vermin problems are helped by ensuring that food is stored securely and spills are cleaned up. If they can’t find anything to eat, they won’t return.
When you reshelf, place the oldest food towards the front, so it gets used. Try eating from the pantry for a while before restocking and place new items at the back. If you put related items together in a way that makes sense to you and if you label those endless jars of jam and strange packets of flour as you buy or make them, you won’t overbuy or waste so much and everything will be easier to find.
It's back to the computer now for me, happy spring cleaning!