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June 4, 2014

Life gets distracting, and time slips away.

That was the potential pitfall of Project Penzeys that I started about a year and a half ago. The idea was to thin out my spice drawer that was overflowing with old and seldom used jars. To ease the pain, I decided to take it one week at a time.

If I’m not mistaken, I did keep this going for a few months before we had to move. Instead of doing it weekly though, I slipped into monthly. Every four weeks two jars would get tossed and another two would get replaced with fresher, more vibrant versions of the same.

Then of course came the move to Princeton.

For what it’s worth, I think I’ve done a remarkable job resisting the temptation of hoarding new spices with both the Savory Spice Shop nearby and my deeper interest in Indian cooking. Sure, I’ve picked up a few new things like dried aleppo chilis and black mustard seeds. But for the most part, I’ve been able to make do with what I had on hand and buying refills of spices only when needed.

Now that we are getting ready to pack up all our stuff again, it’s time to leave some behind.

To be fair, the ground nutmeg wasn’t so old when we left for New Jersey. I still remember buying it. The Chef’s Consortium was doing an event on Lark Street and I wanted some nutmeg to sprinkle on top of egg nog. Oddly, Hannaford only had the ground stuff, and they only had it in a large 2.3 ounce bottle.

With something that you only use a pinch at a time, 2.3 ounces is an eternity. Even though I have whole nutmeg too, and a microplane with which to grate it, I held onto this jar simply because I abhor waste.

But now it’s been a year and a half. The spice’s potency has diminished. It is time for it to go. Goodbye, Simply Organic ground nutmeg. I’ll repurpose your jar and think of you fondly.

Is it possible that my Morton & Bassett herbs from Provence with lavender made the move from California? Don’t even tell me how old that would make this herbal blend. It would make sense though, since I can’t recall buying any M&B spices in New York.

This is one of those rare bottles that sees occasional but regular use. Every so often, during the summer when salad greens are at their most glorious, I’m inspired to sprinkle in a pinch of these into an actual salad dressing (instead of just my usual toss with salt, oil and acid – in that order).

Last season I skipped the CSA because of the move. This season I’m missing out as well. And if left to my own devices, I’m not going to be buying salad greens anyway. Plus now that I’m looking at this jar with fresh eyes, I’m finally seeing its age. It doesn’t smell like much anymore either.

Goodbye, dried salad flowers. Thank you for helping me pretend lettuce was a fancy dinner.

The dried savory leaves I clearly remember ordering from Penzey’s online. This was before the shop opened up in Albany in early 2012. And I got them in preparation for the winter. So that makes this jar two and half years old at the very least. However, I suspect they came from the fall of 2010.

As I was online looking for herbs and spices, I was thinking about all of the different recipes I could make with dried beans. My mental checklist had me going around the countries of the world. I had an Italian preparation, an Indian one, Latin America was represented, as was the American south and New Orleans.

Germany was entirely absent. To make a long story short, I picked up this jar of savory to make some Germanic bean stew. And while I thought it was tasty, the rest of the family wasn’t so convinced. That left me to finish a shocking quantity of beans stew on my own.

The savory went back in the drawer and was never heard from again. Now, the only real mystery, is why on earth did I bring it down to Princeton? There was never any chance that it would be used. That possibility pretty much evaporated as soon as everyone in the family declared its distaste for you.

Goodbye Penzey’s savory, I hope you don’t take it personally.

See how easy that was? Three jars gone. And I’ve got another three on deck, all from Penzey’s. Chili 9000, Arizona Dreaming and Mural of Flavor have one last shot at life. Their fate lays in the hands of Little Miss Fussy. Soon we’ll be having a popcorn topping tasting. If any of these three make the grade, they’ll get to stick around a little longer. Otherwise it’s dumpsville for these jars which have had a much longer life expectancy than anyone ever intended.

Hopefully this exercise is inspiring to some of you. Join me in getting rid of the old and ushering in the new. Spices don’t age well. I know it’s hard to throw things away. But old spices have lost any value they bring to your cooking a long time ago.

You don’t have to get rid of them all at once. Start with the oldest first. Then repeat as necessary.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. enough already! permalink
    June 4, 2014 12:42 pm

    I almost always buy my spices/herbs in bulk, so I can get a small quantity..MUCH cheaper and I don’t feel guilty about replacing them yearly. Also use whole seeds when possible and grind/grate as needed, as they keep much better than the already-ground ones.

  2. Dave S permalink
    June 4, 2014 5:27 pm

    I’m working my way through a drawer of Penzeys, and some other spices. My goal is to get it down to salt, pepper and oregano. Maybe some Ancho powder, cumin, Old Bay too. Wait! I ran out of Zatar….

  3. EPT permalink
    June 5, 2014 4:58 am

    My wife and I went through the spice drawer a few months ago and got rid of probably 15 jars out of 50. Hate to dump them but when it’s time they go.

  4. June 5, 2014 9:14 am

    Mural of Flavor is one of my favorite spice mixes that I’ve come across, surely you could you use it for more than popcorn. I use it on stir fried or grilled veggies all summer long. I also like to put a little Arizona Dreaming on quesadillas or add it too chicken salad for a smokey flavor.

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