Unlike many friends, we haven’t yet felt the pull to clean out closets, the garage, or bookshelves — all of which need attention — during this period of semi-quarantine. But recently, shelves of canned and dried foods — piled, stacked, and stuffed into the pantry — got my husband’s attention. His exercise in culling led to many difficult questions.
Why do we have two containers of powdered sugars, one of baker’s sugar, one of turbinado sugar, one of brown sugar, one of raw sugar, and one bag, and one box of granulated sugar?
What drove us to collect short-grain white rice, long-grain brown rice, regular black rice, glutinous black rice, red rice, and basmati rice? Other questions that arose in the process of cleaning out cupboards were more esoteric. How do you judge the shelf life of unopened catsup, salad dressing, and exotic vinegars if you can’t find any “Use by…” information on their containers?
In today’s local paper, I found the answers from a Washington Post article titled, “How long are condiments supposed to last in pantry/fridge?” The writer followed the recommendations of various university extension services in compiling a list. Here are a few examples of items I chose because they matched those breeding in my fridge: chutney (unopened), one year, (opened and refrigerated) 1-2 months; hoisin, 18-24 months, 3-6 months; and barbecue sauce, two years, 6-12 months.
The best news for me is that vinegar can last indefinitely. This means I don’t have to throw away my white balsamic, red wine, rice, black fig, apple cider, dark chocolate balsamic, white vinegar, and fig balsamic vinegars any time soon. After giving the official line, the writer admitted that these rules could be difficult to enforce. She must know that most people can find food lying around at the back of the cupboard that is ten years older than their children. The key is if a food item has a blue-green tint and/or stinks, it’s time to kiss it goodbye, metaphorically speaking.
Among my husband’s other finds were black-eyed peas and two kits of ingredients to make okonomiyaki, which Wikipedia describes as “a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients in a wheat-flour-based batter.”
During this period, when going to the grocery store can be dangerous, we eat whatever we find in our kitchen. I have no idea why a bag of black-eyed peas (really beans) has been lurking undetected in the pantry for years. But I managed to locate a couple of recipes, we dug out our rarely-used pressure cooker and created a tasty stew. I would even buy the pea/beans again.
If there were pull dates on the okonomiyaki kits, I wouldn’t know because I don’t read Japanese. However, there were pictures and directions inside. “Hello people of the world! Everyone can enjoy an “Okonomiyaki Party” at home.” Given the coronavirus restrictions, we enjoyed a party for two. The kit consisted of wheat flour, yam flour, crunchy “tempura crisps,” and seaweed flakes. To this we were to add cabbage and pork. I’d eaten the pancakes before in Japan, and they were delicious. These results didn’t live up to my memories. Still, we used up one of the kits. One package gone, and I know someone who might like the other one, leaving more room in the pantry for rices and vinegars in the future.