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Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Pantry



    Dictionaries define a pantry as a small room used for storing foodstuffs and implements. Our pantry is more than that, it is a storeroom of  family history and ethnic diversity.
   There, on that shelf are grandma's Guardian Service pots and pans circa nineteen-forty - nineteen-fifty. Thick aluminum vessels to first be warmed by low heat,  which becomes stored in the pot which will becomes hotter than the heat source and is retained. The pots crackled exterior is difficult to keep clean but grandma and mom kept the pots spotless. The thick dome shaped glass covers sport a knights helmet and crossed axes in the shape of gingko leaves on poles. Pieces have been added to the collection, little gems found at yard sales, these 'new' old pots are not immaculate, time has not been as kind to them.  The griddle is a solid aluminum about an inch thick.  Sunday mornings Mom made silver dollar pancakes,  then, our eyes were level with the griddle and we would watch the batter rise from exposure to the heat.
    To scour the griddle, pots and pans a small piece of steel wool was used. It was kept in a plastic container with lid, within, a mixture of water and Rokeach soap (kosher soap) which as a matter of fact, kept the steel wool from rusting and thus one scant patch of steel wool would last until it was scoured away instead of rusted away. Bon Ami powder also would be applied to the pots to remove the oxidation stains without nicking a surface, it  by her side like a sidearm ready to fire.
    The view of mom at the sink when she was cleaning a piece of Guardian Service had a distinct rythmn, the motions of her arms and hands a waltz , as she rubbed, rubbed, her body a symphony.  Meticulously inspecting and scrubbing  back and forth, top to bottom adrift and at peace, maybe, she hummed a silent tune to herself, one two three four, one two three. Magic pans in her hands a genie creating something out of nothing. The simplest meals, no meat, colorful, tasty and filling and satisfying. Their honored place of rest a shelf close to the door close to be picked first ot make magic. 
      At the far wall a pegboard holds tools for the grill, for the hotdogs, shrimp and hamburgers of summer meals without the mess of clean up, carefree fare.  the optimism of spring greets the eye, the subconscious mind wanders to warmer sunshine and short sleeves.
The winter segue that satisfies. The relish is waiting near the saurkraut mustard and ketchup, the four musketeers of spring.
    One night I saw the oppossum sitting on the sideboard of the grill. Venturing out to snap a photo, quietly moving closer, it dawns on me that I know  nothing about the personalities of oppossum and  moving closer might be a stupid thing to do, closer,  claws and fangs glare, hastily retreat.
     Twice starting the grill without opening the cover, resting frogs have been cooked, ruinning all appetite. Frogs legs are good eating, but  imaginating them incinerating alive is too vivid to consume. And yet, blue gill from the pond, thrown into the fire, be good eating. Primitive meals, primate.
   Strainers and collanders hang from their hooks, waiting, for pasta or salad, porcelain, aluminum, fine screens, punched holes, orange yellow and gun metal. They have seen the last of broccoli, cauliflower, peas, green beans, spinach and struffoli too. They have seen vegetables at their best. Some were bought, others  gifts or inherited. More than necessary colorful decorations, art in the pantry.
    Waiting on the lower shelf is the bowl made in Italy, a painted flower wistfully brushed into the center, it smiles at us when all the pasta is finished. It is near the pasta in boxes or celophane, imported and domestic.
   Those annoying empty plastic containers are in there too. They annoy because they are empty.  must reside In the sanctum, the vault of treasure, they must reside, even the scarred, must be saved for the collected leftovers, the tidbits of tomorrow and the extras that get shoved into the freezer, a squirrels acorns an insurance deposit buried for security.
     Near the crockpot on the topmost shelf the obsolete food proccessor, so says the manufacturer when  attempting to purchase parts . A small pimple of plastic to secure the bowl has long since disappeared, now the tip of a skewer reached down into the space where the dimple was is the only way to get the machine to hum the whirls into the consistency for a mixture. It is more than thiry years old, resting in the warmth of an uppermost shelf, obsolete.
    The most used utensils are stored in the pantry, ready and handy. The others, the once in a while used tools , the piepan and cake pans are stored on the laundryroom shelves.  The lesser tier in the hierarchy of the kitchen{unless you are a baker by trade}.
    Lining the short wall in the pantry to the left, in little cubby holes five inches deep, debut the life of spices.   A large bottle with the last of the Hungarian Paprika. Purchased at Botany Village, New Jersey more than fourteen years ago. It sits in a cubby hole all it's own. It is added sparingly to savor our past and to reinforce our heritage, to warm us and wake us up. Bought in specialty shop with fresh homemade appetizers, sausage and cheese. There was a room separated by glass, where the machine to make fresh mozzarella sat, a big metal vat maybe five feet in diameter. The store had  shelves filled with goodies, cookies, candies, pastas sauces, beans, olives anchovies, nuts and on an on.
    If all the spices that crowd the shelves in the pantry had containers the same size they would be stacked  alphabetically, Chili Powder, Chinese Five Spice Powder, Italian Parsley, Indian Curry, to find them easily.  The cinammon container is much larger than the ground black pepper or the cracked black pepper near the cardamon seeds and the star anise sitting next to the large jar of this years dried hot peppers alongside the cans and jars of olives, black and green that are below the capers and tuna fish. All the spices are on the short wall out of order. The most useful way of filing them is to put the most used closer to the door and the larger containers towards the back of the pantry. The order always changes when something new is added like Thai Fish Sauce or the Oregano and Basil dried from the garden. Musical spice.
 There is ofcourse a spot for bandages, in various sizes, the little covers, handy when the knife has to test itself, or the grater nicks the knuckles.
    That same short wall holds sweet jams from the summer berries, store bought marmalades, salad dressings for the local greens, oriental spices to throw into the wok.  
        Pantry, from the old French word Paneterie, a bread closet and Panetier, the servant in charge of bread.  The pantry a servant in charge storing and securing the foodstuffs. The many foodstuffs that have  evolved since the first man made the first loaf of bread.
    For your consideration, the sevant in charge of bread, someone who stares at, yet can not touch what is in front of him. Was he in the tent, in a building, how did he get to be in charge of the bread, was it a promotion or demotion. Oh, what do you do for a living, I am in charge of the bread. Did the servant make the bread or guard the bread, dictionaries do not tell the whole story.
    To the back shelf  sits the  antique glass juicer, a round object with a reamer in the center and a well below the reamer, for fresh 'squeezed' orange juice or lemonade with a sprig of  the spearmint from the garden. This juicer was a great invention, dense yet not heavy, misleading at a glance, light enough to grab with one hand with a glass ring at a side, to securly hold for pouring or reaming.  An old piece of glass that looks brand new, who owned it before, what did they pay for it, was it as respected then, as it is now.
    Jars of pickled red cabbage and pickled beets are on that side too, near the stone mortar and pestal, a tool used by the ancients, as we, to grind  seeds into spice . It too is on a low shelf to protect it, a place where maybe it will not fall to break. When in use, transforms a kitchen into a cave filled with aromas. 
    Pantries have personality, charm from around the globe. The whole world in a closet. There, the whole world is home.

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