Building a well-stocked pantry is something that I talk about a lot when I’m cooking with people around. It creates an environment of unhindered free flowing creativity resulting in tasty food. I find this important as it brings the joy back to cooking. Cooking should be fun, there are many other things in life that we have to stress over, so let cooking be a joyous, relaxing, therapeutic endeavour. A well curated pantry will always offer the basics that will provide a simple, nutrious meal with little fuss.
When I eat, I eat modestly and simply with quality ingredients. I enjoy tasting a good carrot and delicious roasted meat prepared with care. The pantry is the backbone of the kitchen and deserves love and care in its procurement. Quality oils, vinegars, salts, herbs and spices really make all the difference.
I recognize the lack of local vinegars and oils available to the average person, but in time these things will change. At the Edge of the Woods farm I’m attempting to make our first big batch of apple cider vinegar from fall harvested apples. I’ll let you know how it turns out in a few more months. We’re also looking at cultivating different plants to yield vegetable oil, which will prove to be a fun experiment.
Patience is required until these things can be provided locally outside the mass food distribution network. Putting the intention forward to make a positive change in an uncompromised fashion must be there from the beginning or the end result will lack integrity.
This time of year is the perfect time opportunity to use up all the things in your pantry that have been sitting there since last summer to make room for a simple, well thought out kitchen. With a little planning your pantry can be set up to accommodate your lifestyle and the cooking needs of you and your loved ones, even on those hectic days that you’re not feeling inspired.
Here are the pantry items in no particular order that are essential to supporting me when I cook.
- Pickled/Fermented/Canned Vegetables (preferably homemade)
- Cooking oils/fats
- Finishing oils (any first press oil)
- Sugar or honey
- Dried/Canned fruit (preferably homemade)
- Vegetable Broth/Stock
- Vinegars – Whether used for cleaning, their health properties, in a salad dressing, to balance out a dish or for preserving they are essential in all kitchens. I use regular white vinegar often in the kitchen.
- Pickled/Fermented/Canned Vegetables (preferably homemade) – Great in salads, as a snack with cured meats, crackers or simply on their own. They are delicious and are good for you.
- Salts – All salts of different shapes and sizes are important for helping flavours dance in your mouth and for preserving our foods. I avoid using iodized salt.
- Garlic/Onions – Fresh local garlic and onions can easily be stored and kept in a cool dry place all winter. They are a wonderful base flavour for many dishes.
- Herbs/Spices (preferably fresh or small batch dried herbs) – Old dried herbs are just that, losing the true essence of the herb over time. Finishing with fresh herbs really brings flavours to life and brightens the dish.
- Cooking oils/fats – The oil you use imparts its flavour in the food you’re cooking. Keep in mind smoke points depending on the cooking technique you are using. For example, olive oil has a lower smoke point so I wouldn’t use it for deep frying. I use rendered animal fat to cook with when I have it.
- Finishing oils (any first press oil) – These oils are not used for cooking, they have lower smoke points and lose their flavour when cooked with. They elevate and provide balance to the dish you are serving with their wonderful aromas and flavours. Drizzling them on top of a fresh tomato, in a salad, on top of your favourite pasta or meat dish gives a beautiful finishing touch. Even though they are a little more expensive than regular oils they will last for months.
- Black peppercorns – A wonderful flavour builder for stocks, soups, stews or enjoyed freshly ground on your favourite dish.
- Flours/Grains/Seeds – Corn, RyeSpelt, Sunflower, doesn’t matter; an essential staple in any household.
- Corn – Fresh, frozen or ground into flour there are infinite uses.
- Rice – A wonderful flavour carrier for any occasion.
- Sugar or honey – As a preservative or sweetener.
- Dried/Canned fruit (preferably homemade) – They have many uses, including baking, snacks, spreading on toast or desserts.
- Legumes – Dried, fresh or frozen you will always find these in any kitchen I’m cooking in.
- Squash – They keep well for long periods of time. Roasted squash is mother nature’s candy.
- Vegetable Broth/Stock: Homemade as the ones in the store are full of sodium and nasty preservatives. They provide depth of flavour to soups, stews, sauces, etc.
- Vegetable Broth Recipe
Cook time: 45min
– any of your vegetable scraps
Cover with water and simply bring all your ingredients to a boil and simmer for 45min. Strain and use as desired.
Note: Any vegetable scraps that aren’t going to the compost pile either go directly in the pot or in the freezer for later use.