As more fresh produce begins to roll into markets during the first weeks of spring and your excitement to get cooking starts to build, it’s time to think of the pantry as your ultimate kitchen arsenal (and not as an inevitable catchall). To get yours in pristine working order, consider these tips. You’ll learn how to clear out the old, bring in the new and thoroughly enjoy seeing everything in its place and ready to go.
1. TAKE INVENTORY
Identify what you’ll never use and what’s past its prime. “Best by” dates are helpful but they are not stamped on all items (and are often lost when you decant the contents into airtight vessels). One solution: Write the date you bought the food on a small label, and stick it on the container’s bottom. Another? “Trust your senses,” says Dana Gunders, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Here’s how to get started.
Best for: Three months.
How to assess: If it smells rancid or tastes bitter, toss it.
Strategy: Nut and seed oils spoil quickly; stow them in the refrigerator to extend their life.
EYE HERBS & SPICES
Best for: Six months.
How to assess: Technically they never go bad; they just lose flavor and color.
Strategy: Buy whole, in small quantities, and grind as needed.
ASSESS FLOURS & GRAINS
Best for: Six months, if whole grain. White varieties last for a year or more.
How to assess: Don’t cook with them if they smell rancid.
Strategy: Refrigerate or freeze seldom-used specialty flours (almond, coconut) and other whole-grain products.
SURVEY NUTS & SEEDS
Best for: Three months.
How to assess: Bad batches taste bitter and smell off.
Strategy: Freeze if not consuming them right away; sesame and poppy seeds spoil especially easily.
2. PURGE THOUGHTFULLY
Throwing out food is tough; a few waste-not options:
DEODORIZE the fridge with bowls of old coffee grounds.
REHYDRATE stiff raisins and dried cranberries in water until plump; then drain and use them in baked goods.
DONATE unexpired canned goods to charity.
REGIFT a new item (like a spice you’re not fond of but got in a set) with a recipe for a friend who would enjoy it.
3. ESTABLISH ORDER, BEAUTIFUL ORDER
Equipped with smart storage systems and a well-organized pantry, you can preserve foods longer and display what you have better. Then you can rab what you need and put it back with equal ease.
PRETTY BASKETS & TRAYS
Store items you don’t use daily — small appliances, for example — in larger bins. Use smaller ones and trays (which can slide in and out like drawers) to corral bagged snacks or all the provisions in a particular category (such as baking).
It’s fine to leave herbs and spices in their original bottles, but you might prefer options that open wide and fit measuring spoons for simple scooping. To prolong these goods’ lives, store them away from light and heat.
CANISTERS & AIRTIGHT JARS
Staples such as flours, grains and cereals stay fresher in well-sealed vessels. Use glass, ceramic and copper containers instead of plastic ones, which can absorb the odors of their contents.
RISERS & RACKS
With a variety of platforms, you can group items together — and see them all at once. Lazy Susans also let you quickly assess what you do and don’t need on your shopping list.
Baskets & Trays: Medium Montauk rectangular bin, in Grey, $20; small Hogla bin with handles, in Natural, $18; and large herringbone bamboo tray, $35, containerstore.com. Feed steel condiment caddies, $19 each, westelm.com. Bread basket, $78, marchsf.com.
Spice Jars: Acrylic spice jar, 3 ounces, $3; and Commercial straight-sided jar (with white lid), 4 ounces, $2, containerstore.com. Turned wooden spice jars, in Maple or Cherry, $65 for 2, food52.com. Magnetic spice tin, $3, bedbathandbeyond.com. Canning jar, by Weck, 2.7 ounces, $3, crateandbarrel.com. Rajtan spice jar, 5 ounces, $3.50 for 4, ikea.com.
Canisters & Airtight Jars: Medium copper canister, $80, williams-sonoma.com. Pop round containers with lids, by Oxo, $40 for 3, crateandbarrel.com. Whiteware basketweave containers, by Martha Stewart Collection, $89 for 3, macys.com. Neutral small white canister, 18 ounces, $10, cb2.com. Enamel canisters, in White and Grey, $20 each, brookfarmgeneralstore.com. Fido jar with copper lid, by Bormioli Rocco, $13, containerstore.com.
Risers and Racks: Bekvam spice rack, $4, ikea.com. Bamboo in-drawer spice rack, $15, williams-sonoma.com. Three-tier stainless steel expanding shelf, $30, containerstore.com. Lipper bamboo single turntable, 10” by 10”, $10, bedbathandbeyond.com.
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