'Why on earth have we got nine kinds of cheese?' I enquired, head in fridge, of no one in particular.
'I like cheese' said elder son, 'cheese is good'.
'Yes but nine kinds is ridiculous' I replied.
There was a chunk of Cheddar, an unwrapped block of Red Leicester, a wedge of disappointing Cornish Brie, a sliver of Jervaulx Blue, a slab of feta, a lump of Parmesan, half a tub of cream cheese, a bag of grated Gruyère and half a bag of grated mozzarella.
'I still like cheese' said elder son.
'OK' I said, ' but we only really need the Cheddar and maybe the Parmesan. We can use Cheddar in sandwiches and for cooking. Who says we have to put mozzarella on our pizzas?'
'Italian people' said elder son.
My point was that we had too much. There was too much of everything, the cheese, after all, only took up the top shelf of what is very large fridge.
It wasn't just the fridge either. Six kinds of vinegar, various bottles of alcohol, three types of mustard, four kinds of rice, five kinds of pasta, seven kinds of nuts, eight kinds of dried pulses, several kinds of sugar and assorted jars of posh preserved vegetables (sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, roast peppers etc) were crammed in my cupboards. Nothing wrong with any of those foods at all. Simply too many.
I felt uneasy. This abundance, this variety, this limitless choice available to me, to us, it isn't right. It isn't good for us either. It isn't just the variety of food I have in my cupboards but the quantity that is troubling. It is so much easier to overeat when there is plenty there, plenty of variety makes it even easier. We can always make room for a new taste, always make room for pudding.
It is time to shorten the shopping list. Time to stop baking treats every day. Nigella Lawson may call her brownies Everyday Brownies, but that doesn't mean we can eat brownies everyday. Have you seen her storecupboard by the way? Every ingredient under the sun in there. Time for some restraint, some moderation. Time to reread Elizabeth David's essay Fast and Fresh (written for the Spectator in 1960) in which she describes a limited but versatile store cupboard.
'So long as I have a supply of elementary fresh things like eggs, onions, parsley, lemons, oranges and bread and tomatoes - and I keep tinned tomatoes too - I find that my store cupboard will always provide the main part of an improvised meal. If this has to be made quickly it may be just a salad of anchovy fillets and black olives, hard-boiled eggs and olive oil, with bread and a bottle of wine. If it is a question of not being able to leave the house to go shopping, or of being too otherwise occupied to stand over the cooking pots, then there are white beans or brown lentils for slow cooking, and usually a piece of cured sausage or bacon to add to them, with onions and oil and possibly tomato. Apricots or other dried fruit can be baked in the oven at the same time, or I may have oranges for a fruit salad, and if it comes to the worst there'll at least be bread and butter and honey and jam. Or if I am given, say, forty-five minutes to get an unplanned meal ready - well, I have Italian and Patna rice and Parmesan, spices, herbs, currants, almonds, walnuts to make a risotto or pilaff. And perhaps tunny, with eggs to make mayonnaise, for an easy first dish. The countless permutations to be devised is part of the entertainment.'
You can find the rest of this essay in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine and in At Elizabeth David's Table.
Some of Elizabeth David's necessities.
So, I'm having a think, I'm making a plan. A pantry plan. What do I absolutely need in my fridge, store cupboard and freezer in order to make delicious, nutritious but simple meals? I'll be back with my list in due course.