The great Erma Bombeck once wrote a column about spice cabinets, and I have to say, it made me feel a helluva lot better about mine.Â Â Her central premise was that women never throw out spices; we are simply incapable of doing so.Â As a result, many of us harbor small jars of turmeric that predate the fall of the Berlin Wall.
I recently did a purge of my spice cabinet, and it certainly supports Erma’s thesis.Â Frankly, I have no idea what some of these spices are, or how they got into my kitchen.
Actually, I take that back: most of what you see in the above picture are my spices by marriage.Â I didn’t just gain a husband; I gained some Butter Buds and Gumbo Mix.Â This is actuallyÂ hilarious, given that my husband is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a cook.Â When we dated, his refrigerator was usually stocked with milk and olives (sometimes just olives). Â But these jars above are a testament to the fact that he did, at times, have people over for a real home-cooked meal (apparently one requiring Season-All).
“How old is this stuff?” he asked as I stacked the little jars on the counter last week.Â He picked up the Butter Buds and laughed with surprise, as if he were uncovering some relic from his childhood.Â But even the nostalgia was not enough to save the Butter Buds, which ended up, at my husband’s exhortation, in the trashcan.
There were other surprises, too, like the fact that I have literally two generations of whole cloves in my house.
It’s rather a fascinating look at the evolution of Schilling packaging.Â That one on the left is actually made of tin.Â I have no idea how old it is; I am guessing myÂ mother gave it to me when I set up my own place in graduate school, and who knows how long she had it.Â Those cloves may be older than I am.
This little cleanup also made me ponder the shelf life of spices.Â Do any of them go bad?Â I am particuarly suspicious of a small jar of sage (a legacy from my husband, ergo at least ten years old), which looks more like tufts of gray rodent fur than an actual spice.Â Is that how sage is supposed to look?Â Any sage sages out there who can advise?Â I can’t quite throw it away (you were right, Erma) but I am loath to use it in any recipe until I get official clearance.
Overall, this cleanup exercise was enormously revealing.Â For one thing, it reminded me that I should really have a better spice organization strategy.Â Currently, I have all spices starting with A-L on the top shelf, and M-Z on the bottom shelf.Â This works reasonably well (though my husband once asked, very logically, whether black pepper should go above or below).Â On the downside, it’s a deep cupboard, and spices just seem to gravitate towards the back of the space, much like Catholics at Mass.Â This means that I recently bought a whole jar of thyme when I already had more than I can probably use in a lifetime (or lifethyme).Â Darnit.
I guess, to get all English teacher-y on you, the spice cabinet is a pretty apt metaphor for my life: rather chaotic,Â often surprising, rife with little random bits of history.Â Sometimes it’s sweet and sometimes it’s piquant.Â But it is never, ever boring.