Before moving to the east coast I had never lived in a house with an actual pantry. Out here it is a part of the cooking/country kitchen culture. In the west - not so much.
When it comes to home cooking you have to recognize the power of the pantry. This missing element from all my previous kitchens is now the central focus of my cooking space. It contains everything I need to make all our food from scratch in one easily accessible location.
I prefer a real pantry to lots of hard to reach kitchen cupboards that you can't see into easily and that encourage food to hide from hungry searching fingers. In my last kitchen I reserved a bottom cupboard for our food stores, but it was very awkward to use, and taking inventory meant emptying it onto the kitchen floor.
Now when I throw my pantry doors open in a search for succulent sustenance my food can't run or hide - it's going down. I can easily see what I have, and what I need to get.
So what are the essentials? Lists will vary depending on personal preferences, but a basic one will look something like food education advocate Jamie Oliver's, give or take a few things.
I currently have 39 of the 62 essential items on his list, which works well for me.
62 Pantry Essentials
Extra-virgin olive oil
White wine vinegar
Whole wheat flour
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Chow mein noodles
Canned cannellini beans
Canned kidney beans
Canned coconut milk
Almonds/hazelnuts or mixed nuts
Chicken, vegetable and beef broth stock cubes
Red wine vinegar
Canned garbanzo beans
Plain crackers—unsalted saltines
Sugar snap peas
What? No pickles. Or peanut butter. Or Bragg. And shrimp is often raised in coastal areas that formerly contained precious mangrove forests. Other than that, it is a pretty reasonable non-exotic list that will allow one to make many basic yummy things.
And with a winter storm currently bearing down on us, our pantry becomes an important part of our emergency program. It is recommended that one has 3 days of food on hand for emergencies. With our pantry we could probably live comfortably for 3 weeks, with or without power.
With my pantry packed with the essentials, I am ready for 6 feet of snow. Or more. Bring it on.