Pantry, larder and buttery are such old-fashioned words. Pantry comes from Old French and meant “bread room.” Even though our refrigerators are huge and many of us aren’t eating bread anymore, we still have pantries and keeping the pantry in order is a challenge.
A pantry is basically a closet for food: a small, preferably cool room or cupboard without windows near the kitchen. Doing a thorough reorganizing of the pantry each season is a good idea because the pantry, like the junk drawer, utility closet or linen cupboard, often becomes the stash point for stuff you don’t know where else to put. Also, most of the items in a pantry have “use by” dates and so need to be reviewed regularly.
No matter what the size of your pantry, whether small cupboard or large walk-in, if it has never been systematically organized you will need to empty it entirely. Once things are out on the counter, group like items together: all soups, all pastas, all snack foods, all pet items, all grocery bags, all baking items, etc.
As you go, be sure to toss anything well past its expiration date, items that you know your family won’t eat, or anything that looks suspicious, such as moths in the grains. To prevent pantry moths, order Safer brand pantry moth tents online (they are also available at Steve’s Hardware in St. Helena). Now’s the time to wipe down and possibly line the shelves.
Once you see the volume of food and other stuff you are going to keep, consider whether all of it really needs to live in the pantry. If your pantry is overcrowded and it is difficult to see what you have, you may want to store a likely category in another place. For example, teas might be able to be stored in a drawer or cupboard near the tea pots and cups. Pet supplies might move to a utility closet or laundry room. Seldom-used appliances or dishes might be stored in kitchen cupboards, a cellar or basement, or even in the garage on shelves if you cover them in plastic wrap or put them in a bin.
When returning food to the pantry, items used most often should be stored on the shelves that are at waist level or just above or below. If your children make their own breakfast or snacks, be sure to store their items where they can reach them without a step stool, if possible. Try to keep the floor clear so that sweeping the pantry out regularly is a breeze. If you do have to store things on the floor because of space constraints, heavy items like jugs of olive oil, bottled water, and other beverages and small appliances that are seldom used are good choices.
Containerize and label small items that belong together, like cake decorating supplies or miscellaneous bags of tea or the last snack bars out of a bunch of boxes. The more packaging you can get rid of, the more room you will have on your shelves.
If you buy seeds, grains or dried fruit in bulk, transfer them to labeled glass or plastic jars. Slippery, sloppy bags are challenging to organize, and often tear (which necessitates the sweeping mentioned before).
To make the entire pantry usable, keep a lightweight step stool close by so you can access the highest shelves easily. Make use of the inside of the door by installing spice racks or hooks for aprons or grocery bags.