As a kid, I was—shocker—obsessed with illustrated books. The pages I wore out the most did not depict ballrooms, fairies, or enchanted landscapes. Rather, they involved small animals (okay, critters) exploring pantries. Tony Wolf’s version of the city mouse and the country mouse fable showed the two mice gawking in amazement at a pantry stocked with legumes and dry cured meats; the inhabitants of the Brambly Hedge elevated the concept of coziness by huddling around the fireplace of a room that featured a well-stocked pantry on its back wall.
Stocking up my own pantry was a gradual process that I tentatively started during the pandemic, but it wasn’t until I finally moved to a bigger space that I finally started putting more consideration into the act.
On a purely aesthetic level, there’s something very accidentally Wes Anderson about pantries, with sections of neatly organized boxes, tins, and jars. On a recent trip to Arundel’s Antique, a two-story antique shop housed inside a barn that’s next to a biker bar, an entire corner was devoted to the display of pantry staples of days past: St. Pierce’s Chocolate-Almond Butter Crunch, Campbell’s Pork and Beans, Sorrell Brand’s Peanut Taffy, and a row of popcorn boxes featuring circus-inspired box art.
A pantry is a gateway to a gourmet life. Tinned fish, which was trending last summer, is actually a great vehicle for interesting flavor combinations (lemon pepper, tomato and chilies) and artistically-minded branding. Preserves and jars are sturdy enough to double as gasses or planters. Both tinned fish and preserves are actually a great gateway to the exploration of other food traditions. Each country has its own slight variation on the theme: for example, you might be surprised at how unique and different the Alpine red currant/lingonberry jam is from its Swedish counterpart.
Needless to say, DTC brands have caught on to the lure of pantry staples: think of Flamingo Estate’s Pantry Essentials, with its blush-pink label and forest-green, filigreed typeface and logo; Spicewalla’s kitchen essentials collection has 18 different spices, each with a label in a different color, and is packaged in a way that is reminiscent of those color-coded bookshelves that are all over inspirational/aspirational mood boards; Ritual Chocolate’s Bean to Bar gift box looks like a box set of books. These are highly covetable, not-so-bare necessities.
Speaking from sheer practicality, what trumps strategizing one’s own meal in terms of annoyance is making sure someone other than you is well fed and not annoyed by your own seemingly boring rotation of recipes. My gradually-expanding pantry is making it easier and easier. Despite its current state of disarray, my non negotiables are two types of legumes (two varieties of lentils, generally), three types of pasta (one long one, one short one, and a grain-like one that goes into soups), three tins of fish (tuna, anchovies, some kind of blue fish) and dry charcuterie goods, which are great to snack on with a glass of aperitivo after the work day is done and double as a fat base for heartier soups and sauces. There’s something deeply gratifying about being able to whip up a perfectly fine amatriciana after a full day of traveling because you finally have the right type of guanciale always on hand.
Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
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