January 26, 2015

Pantry Essentials

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

Whole grain mustard
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sesame oil
White wine vinegar
Bread flour
Whole wheat flour
Baking powder
Dried yeast
Superfine sugar
Brown sugar
Confectioner's sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Chow mein noodles
Canned cannellini beans
Canned kidney beans
Canned tuna
Canned coconut milk
Quick-cook couscous
Basmati rice
Brown rice
Maple syrup
Almonds/hazelnuts or mixed nuts
Mixed seeds
Chicken, vegetable and beef broth stock cubes
Jarred pesto
Tabasco sauce
Dijon mustard
English mustard
Olive oil
Canola oil
Red wine vinegar
Balsamic vinegar
All-purpose flour
Dried pasta
Canned garbanzo beans
Canned tomatoes
Baking powder
Soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Plain crackers—unsalted saltines

Ground cinnamon
Chile powder
Dried oregano
Ground cumin
Ground coriander
Curry powder
Smoked paprika
Five-spice powder
Sea salt
Black peppercorns
Sugar snap peas
Green beans
Sweet corn
Raw shrimp

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.

Note: Wow. The photo of our pantry was taken shortly after we arrived in Nova Scotia from the west coast. Compared to now, it looks so empty!


  1. Anonymous1/27/2015

    Firstly I have pantry envy! What a wonderful space for food storage. I'm going to copy the list and see if I'm up to par. We've had about 10 inches of snow in the past few days. Luckily I was stocked up and am able to go for a few weeks without going to the grocery store. We have a gas stove, so therefore we don't have to worry about loss of electricity for cooking purposes. It might get a bit cold in the house, but we can at least heat food. Fortunately we haven't lost power in the winter for a few years. Hope you both are snuggled in and staying cozy!

    1. Miss Marla,

      A gas stove would be nice to have. Power is great, too. So far we have been fortunate and our power has remained on through some pretty ferocious winds last night and today. Our pellet stove does not work without electricity, so we are huddling around it while the power is on. The front door is snowed in. Perfect.

  2. Anonymous1/27/2015

    Excellent post, I could not agree more. A bit of food security, and lots of options for tasty meals. Yes, peanut butter! A simple, well stocked pantry is the key to frugal healthy cooking. Sound like you are ready for the snow storm.

    Room to customize as well. I would add dried lentils (red and brown) - number one on my list - so many lentil/dhal recipes to have with brown rice, whole wheat flatbreads, etc., a few tins of good sardines, dried rather than tinned beans. Other grains/seeds - quinoa, barley. Dried thyme. Rice vinegar. Raisins/dried fruit. A few home preserves are nice - fruit, jams, chutneys, pickles. Larder produce - potatoes, onions, garlic, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, squash, apples. Carrots, cabbage, beets, celery in the fridge. A few packets of seed for sprouting in jars is also nice this time of year (kale, mung beans, radish...).


    1. Jake,

      Those are some excellent additions to the list, many of which can be found in our pantry. Dhal and rice with chapatis has been a staple meal for us since returning from spending time in India 10 years ago. Very frugal, delicious and nutritious.

      I enjoy making a dozen whole wheat chapatis which can also be used as tortilla wraps for burritos (if I am too lazy to make corn tortillas).

      Root vegetables, yes. We have not tried sprouting, but want to give it a go - kale sprouts sound great, and must be packed with nutrients. And yes, we are ready to be snowed in for a few days.

  3. Stay warm! And I am also in envy of that gorgeous pantry. Look at that space, those doors, the shelving and the crisp color contrast with the wall. Love it!

    1. Harmony Seeker,

      We rented this house primarily because it is wheelchair accessible. The people that designed it thought that a pantry would be better than cupboards above the counters. Linda can roll right into the pantry to grab a snack or when she is helping me cook. We like it a lot.

    2. That makes it even better! :D

  4. Yes, I would love a pantry like that too! Sounds as though your home is small but very well designed. We have space but several much smaller cupboards. Works OK, though, I'm happy with my kitchen. We could live from the stores for a while if needed!

    1. Charlotte,

      Our new home is larger than our previous place, which fit into the 'tiny' category. But I loved my old kitchen since everything was close and convenient, and less space to clean. My bottom cupboard there held a surprising amount of storage food.

      However, it was restrictively small for Linda and I to cook together. We cook together much more often now that we have room to roll.

  5. What a useful list!

    I was surprised to see on the news last night that because of bad weather in New York people were clearing the supermarket shelves. I would have thought that living in a place where you expect snow would mean having an emergency pantry! We only get a little bit of snow in my part of Australia, but it's my dream to be snowed in for a couple of days - with a well-stocked pantry and firewood pile it could be very cozy indeed!


    1. Madeleine,

      I liked the list as it pretty much kept to the basics with not too many things the average cook would consider unusual.

      I have always loved winter, and winter storms especially. I enjoyed waking up this morning and seeing that we could not possibly get out our front door for the waist high drift of snow on our porch.

  6. Anonymous1/28/2015

    What a great pantry! It is HUGE!
    Mine is in the basement under the stairs, not so nice.
    I shop at Superstore too.

  7. Anonymous2/01/2015

    Love this pantry! I don't have one, but I've improvised and created one, kind of. I got an over the door shelf which I use for pantry items. It is on my laundry room door that is handy in my kitchen. The items on the door are out of site when I close the laundry room door. My improvised shelf holds my boxes of tea, a few canned foods, a little sugar for special occasion baking, coffee, and crackers are stored there. It works nicely, but I love your pantry!

    I don't keep a lot of food around. We have very mild winters here in the Carolinas, USA. I do eat essentially all meals at home and most are cooked from scratch. I usually cook one or two larger meals on weekends and eat from those all week. Add eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, a lot of fruit eaten throughout the day. Almond butter is a staple here!

    Accessibility for Linda is everything. Matters so much. I know you enjoy cooking together. I'm glad your new home offers more living for her.

    I'm re-thinking a lot of things right now. Your blog and experience has been helpful. Thank you, always. Terri

  8. The list is great! Definitely the essentials! Thanks for the post! Greets!


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