Sometimes you hear rumors and have no idea of knowing whether or not they are true. I can’t even remember where I heard this or from whom, but it came across my radar over the past several weeks, and it’s been bothering me.
The gist of the rumor was that the new Penzey’s at Crossgates isn’t getting the kind of traffic and sales they had projected.
Now if that’s true, this fantastic store is in trouble. And if that is indeed the case, I would want to do everything in my limited power to help them out. So I had an idea, and the best part about the idea is that even if the rumor is not true, this scheme will still make you a better cook. Plus, I think my old friend Raf would totally approve.
I’m going to do it, and I hope you’ll join me too.
Almost every single person I’ve ever met has spices in their spice cabinet/rack/drawer that are ridiculously old. And even though we know that spices lose potency over time, we come up with elaborate stories about why we should keep these spices on hand.
But we are our own worst enemies here. We hold onto super old bottles of curry powder because we say to ourselves, “Well, I may want to make curried chicken salad with walnuts, raisins and apples one day.” Except that’s never going to happen. And if it did, it wouldn’t taste as good as it could because we would be using curry powder that’s over five years old. And if we really did want to make the dish, it wouldn’t be that hard to run out and get a new jar.
Whatever happened to waste not want not?
You know what? Those old spices have already been wasted. Some things you can hold onto for long periods of time. Like that Rickey Henderson Topps rookie card. Ground spices, not so much. Whole spices are a little more forgiving, but even they don’t last for a decade.
There are a panoply of reasons why these jars linger around. Sometimes it’s because your cooking style has changed, or a dish has fallen out of favor. I remember picking up some dried savory thinking I’d be making a bunch of Germanic bean dishes. Turns out the kids hate savory. So it sits, and I can’t bear to throw it away.
Other things, like the cloves, I continue to use. Except I use them just a few at a time. You have no idea how slowly a jar empties when you only use on average four whole cloves a month (if that). To give you a hint, it’s not a big jar and we’ve been using it for about a decade.
Some spices have emotional attachments. Like the ones given to you by someone special at a pivotal point in their lives. I still have spices from my little sister before she went to spend a year in Argentina. They were old when she handed them off to me. And that was well over two years ago.
None of these ancient spices are doing anyone any good. So here’s the plan: it’s time to cull the herd.
For some a massive spice purging is just too much. I know I couldn’t do it. So instead I’m going to go a week at a time. Each week, I’m going to select something from the spice drawer or cabinet that’s embarrassingly old.
Replacing all the old spices doesn’t make sense, because many have found their way into this ignoble position by falling out of use. But tossing all the spices I don’t use is a little too severe because I do like having options of making new dishes on the fly without having to make an impromptu trip to the market.
So I’m going to alternate.
- This first week, I’ll select a spice to replace with a fresh version of the same thing.
- Next week, one jar just gets unceremoniously tossed.
- Repeat as needed.
The trick now will be to write the date on the jar when each new spice came into your home. Hopefully that will help you keep track of the passage of time. It’s tough. Life gets distracting, and time slips away.
Like for example I can’t believe tomorrow is already election day.
My first two selections are the oldest in my drawer by an order of magnitude. Whole cloves and whole mustard seed. The cloves will get replaced. The mustard seeds will not. Sorry, mustard seeds. I’m the only one in the house who likes mustard, most of my Indian cooking these days comes from spice blends anyhow, and I have no plans to do any pickling in the near future. Maybe one day we’ll meet again.
See, that wasn’t so hard. Hopefully you’ll join me in this effort of decluttering the spice drawer of things we don’t need. And at the same time helping to boost the sales of the local Penzey’s.
If you happen to bump into me and I’m carrying something else besides a fresh jar of whole cloves, please slap me. Sometimes it’s hard to stick to a plan. Especially when you a food lover in a spice store.