Word of Mouth: Larder

I really love this time of the year when after a cold, quiet winter, the farmer's markets come alive with the freshest fruits and vegetables that Spring has to offer. The arrival of warm weather and colorful produce signals the beginning of a surge of activity for me; from now until the first cold nip of Fall, I keep myself busy canning and pickling all these wonderful offerings so that we can enjoy them all winter. The above photograph shows the beginning of my efforts - assorted pickled vegetables, vodka infusions, and strawberry tarragon jam. It gives me great satisfaction and pleasure to fill up my larder. What's a larder, you may ask?Larder is an old-fashioned word. Before refrigerators came along, larders were small rooms for storing food that were cool, free of pests and vermin, accessible to the kitchen, and had shelving for mass storage. In the northern hemisphere, they were located at the north side of the house, since that area got the least sun. In the southern hemisphere, they were at the south side of the house. They are almost always at the ground floor of the house, which is the coolest part, due to the fact that heat rises. Many larders had stone slabs for storing meat and fish on, since the slabs would remain cool for long periods. Often they had hooks on the ceiling for hanging cured meats, and the floors and walls were tiled for easy cleaning.

Our San Francisco Edwardian house has a small room at ground level that is clean, near the kitchen, faces north, is dark, has shelving, and is perpetually cool. I call it our larder and use it to store liquor infusions, preserves, and canned goods. If my refrigerator is full, I'll use it to store eggs and produce. Bananas last a couple of days longer in my larder than in my kitchen, since it's cooler and they don't ripen as quickly. I don't use it to store meats and fish because the room doesn't get cold enough to avoid the temperature danger zone (which is is from 140° F (60° C) to 40° F (4° C).) I am not sure whether it is okay to store cheese in a larder; does anyone have experience with this?

What about you? Do you have a larder, and if so, what do you store in it?

(Images: Kathryn Hill)

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