Saturday, January 19, 2008

Herbs in a Pantry

My pull-out herb racks.
One of the blogs I read regularly is The Perfect Pantry. Lydia is a very accomplished writer (she's a professional food writer) and composes the funniest postings. I just love reading her blog. A week or so ago Lydia included a post (actually two posts - here's the first one, and here's the second one - it started from a comment from one of her readers named Arlo) about herb and spice cupboards. In this case, it was a pantry box, and the story of its evolution, from the time this reader was a young woman to now, as a middle-aged person, I would guess. It was a very interesting tale full of nostalgia and a bit of heartbreak, and I could certainly identify.

Herbs and spices in and of themselves have been vital in the development of my own cooking style. As a young woman I certainly didn't know a lot about them, except the most common ones - thyme, rosemary, tarragon, oregano, savory, and the regular spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Every time I encountered a recipe with a new herb or spice I bought it. And over the years I've collected a bunch of different bottles and jars, cans, packets, plastic bags, etc. Some of the bottles have stories attached - where I bought them - or a gift from someone in their world travels. I've replaced most of my herbs during that time, so everything I have, mostly, is new. The adage about replacing your herbs annually? Phooey. I keep mine more like 5-8 years, and if it looks kind of old, I just use a little bit more. When we remodeled our kitchen a year ago I had seen these nifty pull-out racks in a magazine. Had to have them. Heaven knows how much they cost. I had to have them, though. They are on either side of my range, so they're handy to the cooktop when I need them.

In the photo above, the left one shows my herbs alphabetized (thanks to my friend Joan, who helped with this when we moved back into our remodeled kitchen) from A to F, with a few herb mixtures on the bottom shelf. The right photo is G to Z, with a couple of empty bottles. I also have another cupboard that holds the very smelly herbs - the curries, the turmeric, etc. The cupboard door stays closed 99% of the time, so the aromas don't pervade the kitchen.
I buy nearly all my herbs and spices now, from Penzey's. I've mentioned this before, so won't go into detail. They have stores around the country - not many, but a few, and I have read there is one up near the Los Angeles airport. In Torrance, on Hawthorne Blvd.

This cute little wooden box lives next to my range, and contains my most used items. The two red things are my newest, and most favorite toys. Battery-operated pepper and salt grinders. I bought mine at least a year ago or more, but I purchased one as a gift for my daughter before Christmas - at Bed, Bath & Beyond (the product doesn't show up online there) for about $20 apiece. I found it online at another retailer for $26. They're made by Trudeau, and is called the Graviti. The gizmos only come with pepper in them, but just empty out the pepper and replace with coarse salt if you want one of each like I do. You can adjust the grind with a small knob on the top.
In the right hand (front) cubbyhole are two small stackable plastic containers of thyme and oregano, probably my most-used herbs. They're available from The Container Store. In the back pockets of the box are: sherry wine vinegar from Spain, some fancy sea salts from Michael Chiarello and my favorite Fini balsamic vinegar with a pour spout on top. Standing up behind are agave nectars and fancy balsamics that haven't been put away since before Christmas.
So, okay, what does YOUR herb an spice cupboard look like?


Kalyn said...

I also have Fini balsamic vinegar with a pour spout right by my stove! I confess I have more herbs and spices than anyone could possibly use, but I do love collecting them.

Lydia said...

Carolyn, you've tapped into an idea I've been mulling about inviting people to send photos of their spice cupboards to share on my blog. Now I'm motivated! I'm impressed that you've alphabetized -- my husband built my spice rack to the height of the various jars -- on the bottom rack, closest to the prep surface, are salt, peppers, bay leaves. Next up are the greens (dried thyme and oregano, etc.) and the browns (for baking); top shelf are the yellow/gold/red spices and the miscellaneous hot things. Very top, hot sauces, pickling spices, etc.

Michelle in Colorado Springs said...

Well I just had the take pictures of mine, they can be found at