Friday, September 12, 2008

Spicy, not messy

A generation or so ago, people bought a lot of their spices at the grocery store in little jars or tins. Hence the sense of having a spice rack on the wall. You could keep things relatively sane and even alphabetize the jars if you were that compulsive.

However, my own spice-buying habits are much more erratic, and the way I've had them stored reflects that. A few baggies of bulk-bought herbs here, a couple of store-brand bags with cheap ziploc tops (that don't work half the time), a few jars--and oops, I bought some oregano again for the third time at the bulk store because I kept forgetting to cross off that I'd bought some. Sometimes the bread-bag-type labels from the bulk store also break off, and you have to guess what's in the bags, or write on them somewhere with a marker. I had one overflowing plastic basket of main-dish-type seasonings, in a wide variety of packages, and another one of dessert-types (at least I'd figured out that nice fresh ground cumin doesn't go well with cake spices).

Time for some re-organization. Actually it was pretty easy. Armed with some medium-sized zip-top bags and a permanent marker, I distributed three or four related bags/jars into each bag and labelled each one with the marker. One bag says "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme," and currently it holds a jar of sage, a sandwich bag of parsley flakes, and a store-brand package of thyme. (I hardly ever have rosemary but it sounded good on the bag.) One bag says "Pepper," and it holds the bulk-store baggies of black pepper, red pepper and so on. One zip-top bag got all the chili powder poured directly into it and labelled accordingly. I stood all the bags up in the plastic herb basket--actually it took two now that things were properly organized (and the oregano was all in one little bag). Now when I want to make Miss Maggie's lentil-rice taco mix, I just pull out the zip-top bag marked "Onion and Garlic" and the one marked "Pepper." (Correction: actually not the "Pepper" bag; I have to go downstairs and get the cumin, see below. But you get the idea.)

I did the same for the dessert spices, although I didn't have as many of those.

I've also been doing one other thing that's helped with the overall mixed-aromas problem in the cupboard: I store curry powder and cumin in the downstairs pantry, still in their sandwich bags, in unused canning jars, just to keep their strong smells away from the other seasonings and other foods (have you ever tasted Cream of Wheat that was stored too close to the chili seasonings?). It keeps them fresher, too. I have some powdered vanilla and a couple of other things that I store there too, just to keep them from pulling in other unwanted flavours.

This also helps when other people are cooking. I remember which faded-out package holds the thyme, but when nobody else knows, it helps to be a bit more organized.

Works for me.

4 comments:

Jacqueline said...

Hmmmm...maybe I should follow your example. My spices are a mess.

songbirdy said...

If you want to keep out the smells a bit better still, you can transfer the contents of one baggie into a canning jar and if you save up your baking powder container lids they typically work perfectly on canning jars. If not, you can buy the new screw on canning jar lids.

I have, over time, bought enough glass and plastic jars to seal all of my spices, I have over 60! Lately I've been buying no salt blends from Victorian Epicure, because I rarely cook with salt and my schedule lately has meant I end up not cooking because I find it too much work. My husband works best with blends (add 1 tsp - 1 tbsp), and I only like his cooking when it is well flavoured with spices. So this is a good compromise!

If you want, I've been saving those little jars because they are quite nice and useful and I can pass them along to you and within a year or two you'd probably have enough of the nice jars to store all of your spices in matching jars!

And I'd have one more reason to see you!

lauren said...

If you ever switch back over to jars/bottles, consider using a SpiceStack spice rack. The SpiceStack keeps bottles organized so you can quickly scan all of your spices, avoid multiple purchases at the store, and always find what you need fast. Check it out at SpiceStack.com and happy cooking!

Mama Squirrel said...

Sounds nice, but thanks to the zip-tops I am "feeling much better now." (John Astin, Night Court)

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