Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Storing Kitchen Staples: Part Two

The last time I blogged about the topic of maintaining  a well stocked pantry,  it was in reference to oils, vinegars, and other liquids.  This time let's take a look at some of the other items that we all store for long term periods.

Sugar:  store granulated sugar in an airtight container.  Basically it is long lasting, but you want to avoid moisture from compromising it and/or critters from taking up residence in it.

Honey and Molasses:  both should be kept in your pantry and not in your refrigerator.  They, too, are long lasting.

In contrast, maple syrup (and I refer here to real maple syrup, not the "Aunt" or other high fructose corn syrup blends masquerading as maple syrup!) can be stored in the pantry - until it is opened.  Then it's time to move it into the refrigerator  Real maple syrup has no preservatives and can begin to grow molds and bacteria after opening.   Note:  If for some reason your honey has been stored in the refrigerator and has started to crystalize, open the jar and put it in a pan filled with a inch or two of water and heat it for a bit.

Brown Sugar:  the biggest issue we all run into with this is that it hardens into big clumps - no matter how it is stored.  A long term way to avoid clumping can be provided by a product called a "Brown Sugar Bear", a small terra cotta bear which is dampened and then added to the bag of brown sugar. I store brown sugar in a relatively air tight container and I still find myself using a baggie and a meat tenderizer when I go to use some of it.  An option that I have been enjoying for the past few years is to substitute commercial brown sugar with  "sugar in the raw" when I can.  It is basically a light brown sugar known as Turbinado sugar.  It does not clump.

Baking Powder and Baking Soda:  These have a shelf life of about six months and should be kept away from moisture.  Do keep an eye on their dates because your baking recipes will be disappointing if your powder or soda have lost effectiveness.

Yeast (dry):  the best bet for storing yeast, whether active or instant, is the freezer.

Flour:  figure on a year of shelf life for all - purpose flour.  I pour this flour into a glass jar with a tight cap and keep it in the pantry.  Whole wheat flour will be fine for about a year, BUT,  it should be kept in the freezer.  Most experts say that cornmeal should also be stored in the freezer, but since I tend to use it pretty regularly, I find that it's fine when I store it in the refrigerator.  "De-bag" (is that a word?) both whole wheat and cornmeal into good, zip lock bags prior to storing.

Bay Leaves, Nuts and Seeds:  all will keep much better and longer if stored in the freezer.  In particular, pine nuts - which are usually pretty expensive - go bad very quickly if not stored in the freezer. Again, store each in a good zip lock freezer bag.

Butter and Eggs.  These are two items, although certainly not "long term" in the way the other items are,  that can invoke a lot of discussion and debate among food folks.  Eggs:  In places other than the U.S.,  eggs are generally not refrigerated.  One of the reasons is that they tend to be fresher than the eggs many Americans buy in chain supermarkets.  The eggs they sell may already be up to two months old by the end of the "sell by" date.  If the supermarket is your only access to eggs, three to five weeks in the refrigerator tops would be the best storage practice.  I buy our eggs from local farmers.  Especially in the colder months, I like to store them on the counter top in a ceramic "egg crate".  I use eggs a great deal, but you have to decide on your own usage patterns and store your eggs accordingly.  Butter is a very absorbent item.  It can quickly pick up flavors and odors from other items in the refrigerator.  I have been making my own butter about every other week for a few years.  I store "rounds" of this butter in the freezer.  I also purchase local farm butter and cut it into "stick" equivalents - this makes this butter easier to measure to use for baking and recipes. With that said, I love to keep at least one "Butter Keeper" on the countertop.  These are great inventions - they are French, I believe - they keep your butter fresh and you always have softened butter at hand.  I especially appreciate that with my morning toast and jam!  You pack your butter into a cup on one piece of the keeper and invert it into a bit of water in the other piece.

With a little bit of attention to detail and an awareness of the dates of purchase of pantry items a successful pantry can easily be maintained.  And a well maintained pantry will definitely make life easier, especially when putting together week night meals.  It is worth a bit of tending from time to time.  You will be glad you did!

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