Enough

'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.

Just some of my food clutter. Nothing wrong with any of it, but I can manage without the lot.

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.




Comments

  1. Oh no the quince crunch!!!What about stagflation? What about all those offended Italian people? We MUST HAVE PUDDING.

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  2. I am looking forward to your seeing your list. I have been doing the same and I have since read three bloggers thinking similarly.
    Nigella's pantry makes me cringe - much of it will have lost their flavours by the time she comes to use it.
    Last night I watched kids on TV eating goat skin complete with the hairy bits cos they were so hungry and felt utter shame.
    Funnily enough I nearly bought some additional cheeses yesterday and then just went for the cheddar and a cream cheese thinking those would it will do everything I needed - sandwich, gratin and a fish pate.
    Brilliant post.

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  3. I love your blog. I have great hopes for my house and cooking once the small boy starts school. If you want to simplify your cooking, take a look at Stone Soup where she only uses 5 ingredients for every dish. http://thestonesoup.com/blog/

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  4. Only five kinds of pasta? I dread to think how many clutter my cupboards and yet I only ever use fusilli and spaghetti. I've been trying to eat my way through some of the ridiculous excess recently.

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  5. YOU COULD ALWAYS DO A NEARLY NEW SLIGHTY USED GIVE AWAY COMPETITION...HAHA..AT LEAST YOU'D BE RECYCLING!!!

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  6. I am looking forward to seeing your list because your store cupboard sounds a lot like mine.

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  7. You could be doing us all a favor here Sue. We have far more and eat far more than previous generations. After watching a recorded Country File last night I came to the decision that we need to manage on less too.
    Jo x

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  8. I'll be interested in your list especially as I'm purging my pantry. By contrast to Nigella have you noticed Nigel's pantry? I daresay it is specially edited for filming but the space around the tasteful packages is so appetising isn't it? Not for him the jostling shelves of half empty bottles and jars.

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  9. I've love this post Sue and I couldn't agree with you more, looking forward to your list. I am a big fan of Elizabeth David too.

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  10. Peppermint Creams, yes I love Stonesoup. I featured her cocoa brownies in February. One of my favourite treats and absolutely as chocolatey as all those extravagant recipes by the likes of Nigella.

    Lucille, yes I envy Nigel's pantry and his whole kitchen actually but he's just cooking for two isn't he and not catering for teenage boys. All his food seems to come wrapped in greaseproof paper parcels doesn't it?

    Louise, there will still be pudding, calm down!

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  11. Love the post! My frigde and cupboards are like that too, but we only have three different cheeses, but lots of pasta and rice! Looking forward to the list.
    Julie xxxxxx

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  12. Anonymous6:32 pm GMT

    I do so agree - we have far too much choice. I was recently reading mum's wartime cookery book - very little ingredients were used for some delicious meals.

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  13. Right as usual - words of wisdom in the midst of all that abundance!

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  14. Well, as a French woman, my question is : why is nine cheese too much ?

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  15. I'm very envious of your stores - I can't resist a jar of something to perk something else up. I find the answer is to have a very small kitchen with smaller cupboards. I've got just 2, 1 door wide, 3 shelf high cupboards for food plus a smallish fridge with the smae size freezer. Don't get me wrong - I would looooove more space but this way I guess we can't overstock.

    If only my kids liked 9 types of cheese adn four types of rice though! It's cheddar from the butcher and now't else in our house (although we sneak in a bit of herb roulade and rouqefort but don't let on!)

    Have a smashing week.
    Stephx

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  16. Great post - we are the same here. I plan to have a purge too, and I'll start with anything more than a year out of date.

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  17. I realised the other day when I opened my cupboard to put away more "necessities" and there was no room, so they got piled precariously on what was already in there - then again when the top two shelves of the fridge are chock a block with various jars of pastes and sauces - e.g harrissa, three types of thai curry paste, hoisin, mustard - the list goes ever on... that I have too much, can never find what I want in the increasingly chaotic mess and it needs sorting!

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  18. I can so relate - my large fridge is mostly under control now, but I have yet to tackle my cupboards! Especially the baking cupboard.... Maybe you will inspire me to actually sort them out!

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  19. Great minds and all that. I had a quick peak at yourcpost earlier but had to leave as I was sorting out our pantry! I haven't dared to look in the fridge yet. I'm keeping that for another day. Isn't it amazing / worrying how much you find, I don't think we'll need any supplies for ages.

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  20. I am very strict about sell-by dates, clear out my cupboards regularly and only buy what I need for cooking - it is a habit that I got into when I was cooking a lot. I do have 10 different sorts of jam but I can live with that.

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  21. This made me chuckle - I bet most of us just pop an extra pack of something in the shopping trolley, 'just in case' or because we can't remember or forgot to look before leaving the house and then end up with an overcrowded cupboard full of duplicates! And I also have boys (aged 17, 20 and 22) who can look at a perfectly adequate food store and groan "there's nothing to eat!"!!! But...post-christmas, we have almost used up the ancient bags of dried beans and they are even asking for lentils now!!!

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  22. Phew! I'm glad I'm not the only one. We desperately need you to help sort us out.

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  23. I've been doing exactly the same thing, I've been simplifying my life in all sorts of ways, now for the pantry .... ;)

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  24. My fridge/freezer was also very overcrowded and then we lost power in the floods and I had to throw EVERYTHING away. It was great and very liberating - no decisions to make, all gone in large plastic bags. I never normally throw anything away, but with no power for nearly a week, I had to. I am not going to replace all the things I had, and will be very interested in your essentials list.
    Dee

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  25. I try hard to ration myself but temptation is on every isle...

    I coudn't manage 1 type of pasta but ration 1 shape, one long and 1 small...and am slowly giving up my lentil addiction - I have about 5 types but am trying to wean down to 2 (one soft one firm)

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  26. Knew our cupboards were overstocked when a bottle of olive oil(fortunately plastic) fell out. I'm always torn between having enough to stand a bout of bad weather and please elderley relative's capricious appetite and feeling that I'm keeping the supermarkets in business.

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  27. Anonymous3:11 pm GMT

    Your photos tell the story. The second one is so much more inviting than the first.You always leave me with something to think about. Keep your blog going Sue. ME

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  28. Pati from London3:14 pm GMT

    Hello Sue, we tend to be quite organised with our shopping so we always plan in advance what we are eating during the week or for 4 or 5 days and buy a big shopping trolley with all the ingredients. By the end of the week the fridge is quite empty (apart from the long term stuff like jam, lemon curd, dulce de leche, mayo, pesto sauce, mustards (2 types), and a few daily essentials like milk, eggs, butter, cheese (3- 4 types that change every week apart from cheddar), houmous and perhaps beer and a few other essentials. In the cupboards I always like to have: 2 types of lentils (pui and orange), 2 types of pasta (long and short), cous cous, herbs and spices (quite a few that we use), 2 types of rice (basmati and spanish for paella - we buy arborio if we are going to cook risotto that week otherwise we don't), tomato cans, sugar, flours, tea, coffee,cans of tuna, sardines, spanish peppers, artichokes, beans, decorations for cupcakes, mix nuts, raisings, oats, other cereals, cookies and a few other bits and bobs, but most of the rest, we buy if we need them for a particular meal. We have quite a bit of space left over in the cupboards and it is actually quite nice not to have them absolutely full. My hubby doesn't like to accumulate and declutters the cupboards every so often so that is handy. Have a lovely weekend, Pati x

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  29. I'm impressed! I laughed at my friend who told me she had 8 sorts of sugar in her kitchen, until I counted and realised we had nine.

    Eating is a source of pleasure and sociability in our home, but I know we could do with a sort out too. I blame the early snow and my subsequent desire to ensure we had our own private food mountain "just in case"

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  30. I have a full pantry but its all basic foods well mostly :o). I find the cost of a lot of these extra foods too much on our budget so I never have this problem!

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  31. For me, a lot of it is a post-Christmas thing. For a while we were entertaining and people were bringing things over and everything was out of the ordinary and now we have three containers each half full of olives and 4 half-full boxes of crackers, not to mention the many half-eaten cheeses and way in the back several other rotting delicacies and a tiny bit of cranberry sauce. It is time to clear it all out and start eating normally again.

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  32. Ours is the same - endless bottles of things half used and a shelf dedicated to left over bits even though we had a big clear out just before Christmas. It's amazing how quickly it stacks up again.

    take care,

    Nina xxx

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  33. Living in Morocco, I often envy the choices you have (my 'larder' is much like Elizabeth David's and nearly everything made from scratch) but you're quite right...it's an excess and so much packaging!

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  34. Just to let you know that there is a new, revised, e-book edition of "Lunch with Elizabeth David". The novel involving David and her mentor, Norman Douglas, originally published by Little Brown, is available in all e-book formats and can be sampled at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/29680
    It is also in the Amazon Kindle store.

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  35. Love this post! I am all for the simple life. I'll have to give this Lunch With Elizabeth David a look. Sounds like my cupboard...it also makes grocery shopping much easier. I've been planning on making a laminated grocery list for some time now with all of my essentials on it since I'm always writing the same things on every week or two when I run out. Got this idea from flylady.org

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  36. Loved your quote from Elizabeth David - it is a wonderful essay, so true and so relevant! Stuff does rather tend to build up especially around Christmas. I mixed some out of date nuts with fat to make food balls for the birds, so at least they didn't go to waste.

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