“*Please be advised that when the cat’s away the mice will play!
Unfortunately, Connie has not left me the Keys to the Kingdom-that is, her blog, so once this goes up, we’ll hear nothing from Connie herself for a week or so. She is having cataract surgery in May and has to give up her contacts next week. No contacts, in Connie’s own words = “No blogging; no email; no reading. No cooking, NO DRIVING-have not been driving anyway-and whatever else.”
So, before Connie closes up shop here for a few days, let’s talk about my pantry.
Most people who see it have “pantry envy.” It’s a walk-in closet off of my kitchen with shelves on three sides and room for my upright freezer. We built this house ourselves, and I insisted on it.
Generally, the pantry is full of food. I have a “thing” for food. I grew up in a home where my mother shopped every day for whatever we needed to eat that day. There was never any extra food. If we needed to bring a batch of cookies to Girl Scouts, for instance, we not only had to buy the chocolate chips and brown sugar, but often the vanilla or flour, too. Or butter. Or “all of the above.” Baking thus became very expensive!
I had been married for about 9 months when we moved to Eugene, OR, for my husband to attend graduate school. A few weeks after we arrived–while our cupboards were still all but bare–we had the snowstorm of the century–48 inches in 48 hours. In those days, before electronic cash registers, the stores stayed open during daylight hours, even without power. We had one near enough to walk, because we sure weren’t driving–the town where we lived didn’t even own a snowplow. We didn’t starve. But I swore I would never, ever be without food again.
It’s come in handy more than once. I live in a cold climate now and there are days each winter when I don’t–can’t–leave the house. Years ago-decades, actually!-my husband and I were both unemployed at the same time for about two months, and I was glad to have my cupboards full of food. I didn’t have a freezer then. Money was tight for us last month so we lived out of the freezer and pantry.
Recently I noticed that my pantry was a mess. Because I have so much room, it can become a catch-all. Stuff like empty jars get piled in there, instead of put away in the garage. There were crushed-up crackers on the shelves. Overflowing plastic grocery bags had found their way to the floor. I even suspected I didn’t have much food left–by my standards, anyway. It was such a mess, who could tell?
Yesterday I started cleaning the pantry. To do the job right would take more time than I have to spare. But, I started straightening up shelves, recycling glass jars, picking up the plastic bags. Eventually, I’ll dust the tops of the packages, vacuum the floor and call it good. I’m about three-quarters done, and I’m shocked by how little food I actually have.
I also found a few things that had to go. Now, I was cooking long before there were dates printed on food packages, so I don’t get too hung up on them. Even I would not open a bulging can of tomato paste with a 2003 date on it! I also emptied some jars of homemade jam that were waaaaay past their prime.
As I sorted my containers, I checked the dates and put the oldest packages in front. I also made a mental note of stuff that was only slightly out of date, and I’ll be using those things in the next week or two. Obviously, if I see or smell anything odd when I open them, I’ll discard them without tasting–but I absolutely do not expect anything like that. Canned goods, stored properly, are good for about 5 years.
I found a few things we don’t really like that aren’t outdated. They are headed to the food bank.
If you are short on $$$ this month, be sure to neaten up your pantry and check what you do have. Chances are, you’ll find the makings for several meals.
I digress for a moment to mention one of my favorite blogs, The Frugal Queen. This one comes out of England, which seems to be a hotbed of frugality. This month she is trying to use up everything in her cupboards without shopping, and she turns out some mighty interesting-looking meals. I intend to start using up my outdated goods in exactly this way…and if you are low on funds, you might want to, also.
I also need to start rebuilding my pantry. I’ll do it exactly the way I bought the stuff to begin with–by purchasing in quantity whatever I can get for cheap. Quantity might be a case of something. It might be “limit 2.” It’s whatever foods we typically eat and up to a one-year supply.
What kind of deals can YOU expect in the next few weeks?
Think Easter. I’ll pick up an extra dozen or two of eggs. I’m looking for a deal on canned pineapple: .80 to .90 for a 20 ounce tin and I’ll buy a case–maybe two. I’ll put an extra ham in the freezer. And one of the stores here has Del Monte veggies on sale this week for .50 can. That’s a killer deal for the only brand of green beans and corn that I’ll buy. I noticed that I’m going to run out of beans before the fall case-goods sales, so I’ll pick up half a case to see me through.
Cinco de Mayo–May 5–is a good time to stock up on salsa, tortillas and other Mexican foods. While you are in the ethnic foods aisle, look for cellophane packages of spices used in Mexican cooking. They’re fresh, they’re dirt cheap and you’ll be surprised what you find.
The next big opportunity to stock up will be Memorial Day. Think picnics! Ground beef, buns, chips, condiments and soft drinks will be on sale. This is the time to stock up on ketchup, mustard and relish–and I will. Pork and beans, too. Ditto for the 4th of July.
During the summer, when people are canning, you’ll also find deals on sugar. The really good deals are usually “limit 1,” but you will see them often enough that, over the course of a few weeks, you can pick up enough to last all year.
The best grocery deals are in November and December…but I will write about them then.
I shop at a bread thrift store, too. Yesterday I bought 6 weeks’ worth of bread and rolls for a little over $15 and stashed them in my freezer. Note: hamburger and hotdog buns don’t freeze well, so never buy more than you’ll eat within a couple of weeks.
If you rely on food stamps or other benefits, I know it isn’t uncommon to run out of money before you run out of month. Even on a limited budget, you can usually pick up an extra bottle of ketchup, an extra dozen eggs, maybe even a ham–if it is cheap enough. Do this enough times, and you’ll build up a nice little pantry AND regularly eat at the lowest possible price. Try never to run out of anything–like those chocolate chip cookies, it will always cost you more.
Remember that coupons will make your EBT go farther. I mostly buy store brands, but I do use some coupons. If you aren’t currently couponing, give it a try…as long as it saves you money. If it tempts you to buy items you wouldn’t otherwise buy, or to pay more for a brand name, there is no saving.
There is good advice about coupons at Monroe On a Budget. Too bad nobody around here doubles coupons. BTW, I have coupons for Dole pineapple if it goes on sale! And if it doesn’t, I already know where I can get Del Monte for .88 can. This week is probably the only time of year I will see it on sale.”
What would Mother Connie DO without her helpers? This world is a better place because of the community YOU PEOPLE have created. Mikemax has been a major player in this community building. Her wit, wisdom, and expertise are such valuable assets here. So are the comments from all the Club Members. We love the emails, too. As you know, emails can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Next week will fly by and regular posts should be no problem so do stay tuned after you get your pantry or cupboards straightened up!
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PS/Those who have goods from Angel Food Ministries; EBT cards from WIC or SNAP; those who frequent food pantries and people who have food commodities; even those folks who are happiest when they can practice frugality-whether they are living on a dime or not-can benefit from the ideas on this blog. Please feel free to share the information with those who sit in your circle. If you have not submitted your name and email address for our series of cooking tips and infrequent email messages, we invite you to do so. And we thank you for your participation in the Club!