Yesterday, I cleaned out the panty and half-filled a wheelie bin with foods past their used by date, including the occasional packet of flour, sesame seeds or polenta infected by weevils, and two pots of honey that had gone to sugar.
It snuck up on me as jobs like this do.
My husband had not been able to find the pot of salted capers he bought several months ago and wanted them last night to liven up his salad.
He searched high and low and accused me or unknown others of throwing out his stuff. Salted capers do not go off, he said. They do not exceed their use by date. It was just wanton throwing out of his most precious stuff.
My husband’s mother gave away his photograph album to some neighbour’s kid when he went away for a few months in his teens. He has never quite forgiven her for this, among other things.
And so I started on the pantry and found the capers third row down against the back wall.
We designed our pantry to fit into a corner of the kitchen with deep shelves that form a triangle at its innermost walls.
It was a mistake. These places are hard to reach. Things build up there and die. They go past their use-buy dates, they multiply.
In the clean up, I found four varieties of tomato and pizza sauces, and three different types of jars of vegemite. We had four of honey, two of which I threw out, and at least five already opened packs of flour, of brown sugar and bread crumbs.
The worst offender was salt.
My husband collects salt: Cyprian salt, pink rock salt from the Himalayas, kosher salt, ordinary Saxa salt, fine granulated salt, cooking salt for the salt pig on the bench, and black salt from Greece.
Alongside the salt, he collects peppercorns of every colour. No need to throw out any of these. They do not perish, but they take up space.
The pasta packets, many opened, all varieties from tagliatelle to spiralli and rigatoni are my responsibility. Not to speak of the rice varieties and the noodles, mostly instant, Maggi and the tastier Japanese stuff.
You name it we have it.
I was at a conference once where someone used the pantry as a metaphor, an excellent metaphor I thought at the time.
This woman talked of the way we allow everyday things to come to the front and forget about the stuff that lies behind, until we do a cull and are surprised by all the now useless stuff we have collected.
These past accumulations need periodically to be examined and, if necessary, removed in order to make room for the new.
Which brings me to pudding dolls.
Last Sunday we celebrated Christmas with my husband’s family at one of his sister's place in Healesville. It’s a traditional affair, with turkey and ham, but the best of all is my other sister-in-law’s plum pudding.
She makes it gluten free, on account of her coeliac disease, which does not matter one wit for those of us who can tolerate gluten, because my sister-in-law is a great cook and the recipe is tried and true over thirty years of practice.
Years ago my sister in law came across some pudding dolls in an opportunity shop.
These days she sprinkles both pudding dolls and silver coins throughout her pudding and every year we joke about who will be having babies in the year to come.
It’s pure luck as to whether any of us finds a tiny piece of porcelain shaped something like a Kewpie doll but not half so cute.
In fact they’re ghoulish, especially one of the tiny ones, which my brother in law reckons was born prematurely.
We make a fuss when one of the young eligible ones, male or female, finds a baby in their pudding. It’s a sign of hope for the future. Hope in the next generation when the rest of us can only encourage new life from the sidelines.
And finally, I thought I saw a ghost in the vinegar bottle last night but it turned out to be a 'vinegar mother'.
My husband tells me the vinegar mother is akin to a starter for yeast or sour dough bread, rather like
the bacillus that gets yoghurt going in milk. It creates each new batch of vinegar afresh.
And so we reproduce, weevils and babies and vinegar. And from time to time, we cull.