The Kitchn Cure Day 11: Taking the First Step to Making a Super Magical Power Pantry (That Will Always Be There for You)

updated May 9, 2022
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(Image credit: Henry Chen)

The Kitchn Cure Day 11: Clear, clean, and organize your pantry.
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Your kitchen pantry may seem quite ordinary — with its jars of lentils and tins of tomato sauce and sticky, half-forgotten bags of dried apricots — but the pantry is the place where much of our cooking magic originates. It is the power center of the kitchen, and because of this, it needs our love and attention. And that’s what today’s Cure task is all about.

Today we’re not going to just clean and organize our pantries; we’re going to start building the kind of pantry that will make us better cooks. What we keep in the refrigerator and freezer is important for sure, but it’s the pantry items that pull it all together. The beans and pastas and grains and condiments and preserved and canned foods are the magic that turns a handful of fresh ingredients into a delicious meal.

Our pantries also sustain us when times get rough. Here we find the food that feeds us because we’re stuck inside due to snow, a hurricane, sickness, or the zombie apocalypse. Our well-stocked, well-loved pantries also make it possible to invite people over on a whim or to whip up something delicious for dinner even though we didn’t stop at the market on the way home.

How do we bring our everyday, ordinary pantries up to the Super Magical Power Pantry level? We begin with a good cleaning out, of course, coupled with a close look at what we find (and don’t find) in the process.

While you empty, clean, and put back your pantry, be sure to pay attention to what your pantry is telling you about how you cook. What are you throwing away and why? Is this something you can avoid in the future? What’s missing from your pantry? Does it feel Super Magical or kind of uninspired? Are there dead zones and back corners where things get lost and forgotten?

Today we’re clearing, cleaning, and organizing, but in a few days, we’re going to complete the Super Magical Pantry process by restocking our pantries with things we need, things we love, and a thing or two that may surprise us.

Today’s Assignment

1. Take a “before” photo of your pantry — it’s about to undergo a big transformation, so you’ll want the “before” well-documented. Post it to your Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook account, and use the hashtag #kitchncure.

2. Completely empty your pantry and food cupboard shelves and place everything onto your kitchen counter or table. Exception: If you have a spice shelf/cupboard, leave that be, as we’ll take that on tomorrow.

3. Get a clean washcloth and fill a bucket with warm, soapy water. Wipe down the pantry or cupboard shelves. Remove any racks and wash them in the sink. Dry everything thoroughly.

4. If you don’t have them already, map out zones in your pantry. How these will look depends on your cooking style, but here are some zone possibilities: baking (flours, baking soda and powder, vanilla, etc.), canned goods, beans and lentils, pastas, Asian/Mexican/Middle Eastern flavors, etc. You may even want to get baskets or trays to hold some of these ingredients so you can easily remove the whole selection when needed. When making your pantry map, consider what ingredients you use most frequently (or want to bring into your cooking) and be sure you put them front and center. Those delicious, healthy lentils aren’t going to show up on your dinner table if you hide them in the furthest, darkest corner!

5. Turn towards your pile of pantry items. Now your true work begins.

6. Get rid of expired or stale food. Begin by getting rid of anything stale or expired. Toss rancid oils or nuts. Consolidate duplicates. Check flour and grain bags for pantry moths or other kitchen pests, and throw away anything that is contaminated.

7. Are there items that aren’t expired, but that you’re certain you won’t be using? Then start a donation box. This can be gift items, things you no longer care for or have too much of, etc. As long as they’re not opened or expired, you can donate them to a food pantry.

8. Consider new containers. If possible, and especially if you buy in bulk, keep pantry items — such as flours, grains, beans and legumes, dried fruit, and the like — in airtight storage containers so they stay fresh and spill-free. Be sure everything is labeled and dated with the date of purchase.

9. Return your items to their shelves. While you’re doing this, remember your mapping exercise above and use this opportunity to arrange your pantry to your advantage.

10. Have a seat and make a list of items you need to replenish or add to your shelves. While you are doing this, consider what you tossed or are giving away and consider leaving it off, or buying less. Tuck this list aside for now — we’ll be adding to it as the week goes on.

Good work! Your pantry is now on its way to Super Magical status. Tomorrow we’ll enter into the sensual world of fragrance and flavor with a look at our spices.

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

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