It’s not hoarding, it’s planning.
I try to avoid grocery shopping as much as I can. Not that I don’t love standing in the giant line at the Super Walmart, but the more I shop, the more I collect things when I already have plenty of things to eat. I can’t go for “just one thing,” which is exactly how the marketers designed it, by the way.
Over the years, I’ve designed a foolproof system to keep up my pantry and to avoid the grocery store unless I’m feeling specifically called to go.
This made me fall in love with my pantry. Now, it’s not an overly-cluttered mystery spot, it’s a foodie paradise. It saves me time, stress, and I eat like a chef with the least possible effort.
The secrets to pantry keeping: seasonality, discipline, and inventory.
Americans waste an incredible amount of food. We don’t eat our leftovers, and we overshop, letting things go bad. Each and every trip to the store for “just one thing,” turns into a five-bag ordeal ending in a giant bill full of things I didn’t need to begin with. The whole point of the Poser Homestead is I’m not overly pressured to grow all my own food–I’m not eating the last of the tree bark if my harvest fails or anything, so I do go to stores.
I just minimize my needless, cluttery trips by doing three simple things.
Eating and Preserving in Season
I aim to grow what I can, then eat that food in season, when it’s at its best. When possible, I preserve that food when Mother Nature’s tossing a ton at me. During tomato season, for example, I can, sauce, dehydrate, freeze, and preserve tomatoes. The goal is to preserve a year’s worth of tomatoes in various forms. That becomes a staple of my pantry.
My first line of defense is to grow the foods I eat. When I get a blight, underwater, discover a new pest or plant disease and my crops die, I go to the farms and look for B-grades or extras, then I preserve that. I also put the word out that I’m looking for certain things. Last grape season, two people gifted me grapes for preserves and jellies. One woman said, “Yeah, I have these but never knew what to do with them,” about her wild grapes. The second family was using grapes themselves and even made the juice for me.
Never underestimate your ability to source extra, unwanted, or misshapen food. It tastes just as good when eaten and preserved in season.
This is the tough one. Having a seasonal, complete pantry requires attention to detail. I need to know how much–of what–we use and eat. For example, I recently discovered we don’t really eat apple sauce. “Can you make something else?” my husband said when he gifted me three bushels of unloved apples from the farm.
I looked at the shelves, and he was right–a giant inventory of apple sauce spilled over. Years worth, uneaten. That shouldn’t happen. You can conduct a formal inventory on a clipboard sheet, “Item. Amount canned. Amount remaining,” or just rotate the jars and notice the date of the one in front. Since I was still working on 2017’s apple sauce, I knew it was piling up. I should not make more.
This is the important part. I have to discipline myself to pay attention to that inventory and trust myself to skip a season of making something I don’t really eat. On the flip side, I have to discipline myself to go into production or shopping mode when low, to keep that acceptable pantry level. Because I try to eat seasonally, this means I drop everything when it’s canning season.
“Can’t you do this another day,” my family asked. “It’s hot!”
No, because winter–when it’s cool–is not harvest season.
I don’t have to preserve my food to keep a disciplined pantry–this means obeying the inventory levels, keeping a grocery list that helps organize what I need before I need it, and bring that list with me when I shop so I don’t rebuy a thousand things because I can’t remember if I needed it or got it. Failing to keep an inventory and list are the main reasons for overshopping, or running out, meaning you’ll be tempted to go get “just one thing” and overshop some more.
Things I keep on hand at all times:
- Dairy: milk, cream, eggs (eggs come from my chickens)
- Fresh produce
- Yogurts and yogurt culture (I buy the milk but make yogurts and kefir)
- Beans, dried peas, dal. I like to have garbanzo beans, lentils, and black beans at all times, but others are nice, too.
- Rice(s). (Basmati, sushi, brown, sweet)
- Pastas (various shapes and sizes).
- Cereals (oats, grits, etc… or “Cheerios and Rice Krispies for the kid”)
- Flours (almond, bread, all-purpose, chick pea, corn)
- Leaveners: baking powder, soda, cream of tarter, yeast.
- Salts (regular, kosher, sea, pickling, whatever…)
- Oils (olive, canola, coconut, peanut)
- A million spices.
Frozen & Preserved Foods
- Jams, jellies, fruits, meals, meats, broths, chili.
- Fruits picked and frozen in season.
- Coffees, teas
- brewing stuff (kombucha and beer here)
Cleaning and non food items
- Paper items: toilet paper, kleenex, paper towels if you use them (I have the emergency “dog roll” hidden)
- laundry soap
- personal hygiene items
After I look over the shelves and see what I overdid it on and what I need, it’s time to make a list. This does not mean I’m going shopping. It just means I’m aware of the situation on the shelves. I shop every couple months or when there’s one “mission critical” item that forces me out the door. Because I keep a revolving inventory, I pick up what I need to keep me ahead a couple months.
I organize the “need” list into lists by best places to buy: the farm, Amazon, certain local stores, the warehouse store, and “The Loop.” The Loop is a small loop of ethnic stores I shop at to get ingredients at the source. There’s the Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Russian, and Spanish stores in one area, and the old world Italian stores in another area.
Pro tip: the more spices and ingredients you get at the source, the better and more affordable they will be. I always buy spices in bulk at the global market that has the people who most use that spice. I never buy spices in the local grocery store. Trust me–when you see the price and quality difference, you’ll hunt down your sumac at the Middle Eastern store, too.
When it’s time to shop, I go to the stores where the greatest number of needs are. If I’ve got a one-off thing at a geographically obscure store, I’ll make a specific trip there or keep the list on me for when I’m within striking distance and can be efficient with the trip. What I do not do is say, “Forget it, I’m busy…” and get everything at the local grocery store in one trip.
If I forget something or run out and it’s not shopping time, I cook something else. That sounds pretty straight forward, but most people do the opposite–plan the menu then shop way too many times a month. I do the opposite. I avoid shopping, and plan the menus around my well-kept pantry, as if I were the Iron Chef.
I’ve created or remembered a lot of recipes that way.
My methods aren’t without their critics, “Mom, we’re out of food!”
Let me be clear. We are never out of food just because there aren’t any Oreos, I say, “Starve,” or “Learn to make chocolate chip cookies.” I do not go shopping for Oreos. Sometimes, when I say, “Then make cookies…” I’m rewarded with cookies. Other times I just get a blank stare, which is okay too because I don’t care that much about cookies.
Not only does planning and pantrykeeping save me time running around to stores, it kept me from needing to go at all this pandemic. I had a delicious quarantine, and, I could help others. It was a nice feeling.