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My Essential Pantry

Liz at Suburban Tomato did a post recently of  Top 5 – Pantry items for the Kitchen Gardener. I was going to comment, but hard as I tried, I couldn’t get anywhere near down to five.

But it did inspire me to start thinking: what are the pantry staples that I’d really want to have on hand if someone called me into a challenge like Fiona’s recent one (that I followed avidly) on Inner Pickle?

  1. Salt: Number one would have to be salt. You can see why it was such a valued trade item. I don’t use a lot of salt, certainly nothing like the amounts that are in processed foods.  But a bit is essential for healthy eating, and very essential for happy eating.
  2. Bakers Flour: Number two is bread making flour, for bread and crispbread and pasta.  I buy Laucke Wallaby Unbleached Bakers Flour in 5 kg bags at the local supermarket.  I guess I’m showing my culinary heritage there!
  3. Wholemeal plain flour: for mixing with the baker’s flour to make the heavy, grainy bread we like, but also for making pies and cakes and biscuits.  I buy Kialla organic wholemeal flour  in bulk from the local wholefoods shop.  It comes from just outside my 100 mile zone.
  4. Oh, and baking powder to go with it to make self raising flour .
  5. Oats: If I had to choose just one form, it would be steel cut or groats, for porridge but also for biscuits and baking and bread and risotto. If I didn’t have to choose just one, I’d have rolled oats too. I have tried growing oats – bandicoot varieties so that processing wouldn’t be prohibitive, but I haven’t really cracked it yet.  In bulk from the local wholefoods shop.
  6. Milk powder, ideally both skim and full cream.  One day we might get back into having milking goats, or a shared cow.  We don’t use a lot of milk, but with powdered milk I could make yoghurt and labne and cottage cheese, which opens up a big range.
  7. Olive oil: Good, extra virgin olive oil. Not an item to be a scrooge with. I buy Australian olive oil in 4 litre tins.
  8. Macadamia oil: If I have maca oil, I don’t need butter. Olive oil has its own, very distinctive fruity flavour. Macadamia oil has a milder, nutty sweetness that lets me use it instead of butter in every recipe I’ve found. I can buy local maca oil in bulk from my local wholefoods shop.  Lucky me.
  9. Honey: I could do without sugar, but honey would be hard. And I’m not a sweet tooth. We can buy it in bulk from a local grower.
  10. Soy sauce or tamari: I guess if I had salt I could live without soy, but it wouldn’t be easy.
That’s the top ten, I think, and I think with them and a garden, I could live and cook for a long time without getting bored or malnourished. But there’s another ten that I’d really miss.
  1. Chocolate, or at least cocoa powder.  Self explanatory! (It’s imported, but fair trade and worth the food miles).
  2. Spices: Black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, cardamom – most are tropical and imported, but they add so much it is easy to see why they have been traded for most of human history.
  3. Brown rice: I can buy locally grown dryland biodynamic brown rice, and its nearly the same price as the cheap and nasty supermarket brands.  I can even buy it in bulk at the local wholefoods shop.
  4. Brown sugar: for baking, but also for preserving.
  5. Vinegar (Balsamic and cider please). I could brew it but I don’t.
  6. Fish sauce: I could live without it, but it does open up a whole range of Asian cooking that makes garden produce gourmet.
  7. Sesame seeds: ok, I do grow them, but never enough. For baking and for tahini.
  8. Sunflower seeds: I grow sunflowers, and we eat some like pistachios shelling them one by one, but the chooks get to eat most of them. I’ve never discovered a way of hulling them that is viable for quantities.
  9. Pearl barley, for bread and also for soups and stews, and just as a nice low GI high fibre carbohydrate.
  10. Polenta: If I get a good corn year I can grow and make it, but it falls into that second tier of gardening that I only do in quiet years (which seem to happen very rarely these days).

And I can think of another ten I usually have in my jars – quinoa, millet, rye flour, oat bran, dates, brown and red lentils, couscous, molasses, vanilla beans, sultanas.

Thirty items in my essential pantry (and to be fair I did cheat a bit by doubling up on varieties).  But with this lot, mostly bought in bulk, I can stay out of a supermarket for months on end.

What have I missed?


{ 15 comments… add one }
  • brenda from ar May 4, 2012, 12:40 pm

    I’ve gotten to where I use a lot of coconut oil for cooking. That’s all that comes to mind at the moment.

  • Jason Dingley May 4, 2012, 2:10 pm

    First of all let me say… great looking pantry, I love the minimal packaging and use of jars. We have minimal packaging but mostly plastic square containers to enable stacking. We have to be very efficient with space in our home.

    With my top 10 I would drop the salt, I have heard it said there is enough occurring naturally in food to not require it added. I would miss it on chips though. And I would try and squeeze both cinnamon and nutmeg higher in the list. They are my most used dry herbs.

  • Tracy May 4, 2012, 3:45 pm

    Hi Linda,
    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving me the link to the lime pickles recipe. It was great to use even if we haven’t tried the actual pickles yet, I’m positive they are going to be good.
    Your pantry looks good too, easy to see and reach what you need. Great use of recycled jars too.

  • Fiona May 4, 2012, 5:58 pm

    Hi Linda
    For us chickpeas would be right up there. As far as spices go cummin would be the number one spice after salt and pepper for us.

  • celia May 4, 2012, 7:16 pm

    Fascinating peek into your pantry, thanks Linda. Ours is nowhere near as neat! Do you ever keep white sugar?

  • Barbara Good May 4, 2012, 7:31 pm

    I’m highly envious of your pantry Linda, mine has deep shelves which aren’t very wide and the highest is way too high for me to actually reach without getting the step ladder out (I store my pickles, relishes and jams up there while they’re waiting to be opened). Yours looks very easy to find things in and the jars are great. Even better than the jars though, are those FANTASTIC retro canisters.

    As for your list, it’s quite different to what I would stock, you are obviously streaks ahead of me in the making from scratch department and I suspect your garden might be just a little bigger too, if you can grow oats. I agree with salt, but would definitely include pepper in the top ten as well, flour, baking powder, and olive oil. I would have to have sugar too, and butter and eggs considering I don’t have chooks.

    Very interesting idea to think about.

  • Zara May 4, 2012, 7:40 pm

    You certainly have one well-stocked pantry Linda.
    Most of your top pantry items are mine too.
    Great post. x

  • Kate May 4, 2012, 8:21 pm

    I think you have it just about covered Linda, although I would add chickpeas, and leave out the milk powder ( we have cows) and the fish sauce.

  • Liz May 4, 2012, 9:43 pm

    Thanks for the link. As I put it in my list I am going to have to say anchovies – far from essential but to add flavour to a whole range of dish I do think they’re great. Milk powder is an interesting choice – my only experience with it is my grandmother who made it in milk on a daily basis – I didn’t realise it was potentially so versatile. If I was adding to my list to make it 10 I would have included dried fruit, rolled oats, flour, lentils, sugar and vinegar – which proves I can neither count nor limit myself to 10 ingredients.

  • Frogdancer May 5, 2012, 7:46 am

    I have a packet of millet that’s been sitting in my pantry for the last two years. I was about to feed it to the chooks. What do you do with it?

  • Linda May 5, 2012, 8:22 am

    Hi Frogdancer, I add it to my bread (boiled for around 10 minutes first, or pressure cooked for just 2 or 3 minutes if I am in a hurry). And dry roast for a minute or two (like dry roasting sesame seeds) then boil for 15 and serve as a low GI carb alternative to rice or couscous or quinoa. It’s really good for you – no gluten, easy to digest, high protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, and phytochemicals.

  • Linda May 5, 2012, 8:24 am

    Yes, I’m not sure if I overlooked chick peas, or I was thinking I can substitute dried home-grown peas. But I do usually have them on my shelf too.

  • Linda May 5, 2012, 8:30 am

    Hi Barbara, I love my pantry too. It is actually double the length of the photo – it just lost too much detail trying to fit it all in – and the full height. It’s actually one wall of my kitchen – nearly 4 metres long and over 2 metres tall. Cupboards don’t work in our house. Living in the bush, you live with wildlife, and anywhere dark and enclosed is going to get them, no matter what I do! So we have all open shelves. Packets don’t work either – everything has to be stored in glass or the creatures eat their way in. I bought the big glass jars when we first moved here and were living in a tent, 30 years ago, and they’ve been useful ever since. I love the canisters, but they’re actually not as practical. I forget what I have in them.

  • Linda May 5, 2012, 8:33 am

    Hi Celia, I usually seem to have a jar of icing sugar up there, but it is often several years old! But I find I can use raw sugar in place of white, and that’s what I usually have on the shelf. We live half an hour’s drive from the nearest shop, so I’m very used to substituting ingredients.

  • Linda May 5, 2012, 8:34 am

    Hi Jason, I’m not sure about salt. I certainly have a taste for it. And I think in Australian climates, and especially if you do any physical work, you can probably healthily afford a bit.

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