A Simple Guide to Spring Cleaning Your Pantry
Get ready for a new season of cooking with our advice.
At this time of year, we purge our closets of winter sweaters and coats, put away bulky bedding, and deep cleaning corners we might not have paid any attention to since this time last year. Spring cleaning is about refreshing and renewing, but it's also about assessing what you have. It makes sense to extend the process to your kitchen and take a look at what's in your cabinets and the refrigerator. Think of it as the culinary equivalent to donating those pants you know you'll never wear again and make space for the food versions of your new spring wardrobe, or the ingredients that will inspire your spring and summer cooking. This primer will help you freshen up your pantry and your cooking.
The Spring Part
We're not saying you should empty your cupboards and start afresh (nor do we advocate clearing out your closet and buying all new). Instead, what we're advocating for is checking what you have, maybe rediscovering a bottle of pomegranate molasses or a jar of chutney that will enliven dinner this week, seeing what you are low on and should restock, and assessing what is past its best and should be composted, recycled, or trashed. This will really help if your kitchen is small and storage space limited.
There may also be ingredients you rely on more in the warmer months, like BBQ sauce, that should be moved to pole position. And ingredients that are go-tos during casserole season that you won't be using so much now, like polenta, that can be moved move to the back of a cupboard.
The Cleaning Part
Tackle this spring cleaning cupboard by cupboard or shelf by shelf. You don't need to do a major overhaul in one day, unless that's how you want to do it. And while you're organizing, give the shelves a clean and wipe off favorite ingredients that get sticky or oily with use (we're looking at you olive oil and honey).
What to Check and Use Up or Replace
Give your ground spices a careful once over. It's easy to forget how long you've had jars of ground spices or herbs, but they should be used within a year of opening. Then there are your cooking and finishing oils. Some oils, not your everyday olive oil but ones you use less frequently, might have gone rancid sitting in the pantry unused. Assess what you have and clear out anything that's no longer usable.
Check your baking supplies, too. Unopened baking soda lasts two years, but an opened box is only good for six months. The good news is that even if it's past its best for baking, you can still use this essential for cleaning. Then there's baking powder. It's easy to forget how long you've had that baking powder in your kitchen cabinet, and you want spring cakes to be as well risen as anything you baked last fall. Baking powder is sensitive to moisture and humidity and generally has a shelf life of between six months to one year. Discard it if it's no longer active.
We use nuts all year round, from pies and cookies during the holidays to in grain or leafy green salads in the summer. Some types of nuts last longer than others, and as a general rule nuts last much better stored in the freezer than your pantry. Assess whole grains now, too. From your favorite farro or wheat berries to spelt or rye flours, even whole wheat flour, these are all more perishable than white rice or pasta or all-purpose flour, so use them regularly and use them up! For longer storage, keep them in the freezer not your pantry.
Also check the use by dates on canned goods such as beans, tomatoes, and tuna, and organize them so that the ones with the closest expiration dates are at the front and you'll use them first.