Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Storage Tips From My Kitchen: A peek Inside My Spice Drawer

Our kitchens these days are filled with all sorts of products meant to inspire us to cook.  I'm not just talking about gadgets but a small thing...those spice jars.  How many of you have a drawer or rack full of dried herbs and spices and actually use “all” them?  Have you been mesmerized or inspired by one of those beautiful shiny pre-loaded spice racks because it seems quick and easy, so you buy it and then find only about 1/3 of the spices in it are ones you use.  The rack is handsome looking, organized in appearance...it just seems to be such a great thing and oh yes, it makes you look like you are quite the cook doesn't it.

Handsomely designed but impractical for most kitchens for various reasons

Most people purchase single jarred spices at the grocery store when they need them. Many times these get used a couple times, put it in the cupboard and there they sit, gathering dust, losing flavor and because they don't "rot" or look spoiled they are never thrown away.

If you seem to have a hard time getting rid of these unused herbs and spices you are not alone.  I know I've been guilty of doing this.  But in reality its such a waste of money to buy a whole jar of spices when you only need a teaspoon or tablespoon.  Its also a waste of time and space to maintain these jars when you think about it; moving them around, cleaning them, thinking about them and feeling guilty for not getting rid of them when you know you will never use them but just in case you keep them anyway.  Makes me tired just thinking about it too.  So let me share some things I've done that have helped me to save time, money and space in my kitchen.

Do you use all of what is in your spice rack?  If not why do you hang on to them?
If you snooped around my kitchen and looked in the drawers and cabinets you would notice I am someone who is fairly well organized.  I wasn't always this organized but have found it more frustrating and more time consuming when I am not and life is just too short for all that drama to suck up my personal resources.  When I added up the cost of all those herbs and spices I bought it was even more expensive than I realized so a few years ago I decided to do something about it.

The first place I looked for inspiration was in professional kitchens which are organized in zones and set up for efficiency.  I found this really useful and garnered a lot of great ideas I could implement in my own kitchen.  In my kitchen you would see I have an area for things I use in baking, one for cooking oils and vinegars and my culinary herbs and spices have a single handy spot all their own as well.  Even the drawer they sit in is organized to maximize its efficiency.  But excuse me I have digressed a bit.  Lets get back to the spices.

Daily used items up front and tools readily at hand and spices easy to find.
Vicki Norris, of “Restoring Order” who has been such an inspiration to me, posted a link this week on her company's Facebook page to an article on the question of how old is too old for spices. Spice Article  Though it was a pretty good article, it missed some things that I consider important and I wanted to add to what was shared there here.

My first piece of advice to you is to never buy that pre-filled herb rack.  Never ever!!!  They look enticing being all nice and shiny and have the appearance of being something that will serve you in the kitchen but remember what I shared above...there are a lot of things in those racks you probably won't use. Besides the fact you probably won't use what is in them they are not very easy to keep clean either.  I just spent 2 hours cleaning the one pictured above after our neighbors gave it to us...I was going to try and integrate it into our space but the lids were too big and because it was such a total pain to clean it's going away.

My spice drawer is organized for work but includes my pretty salt jars at the front and my favorite wooden salt scoop.

Because I cook from scratch a lot and have quite a nice collection of herbs and spices I use on a regular basis.  One thing that helps to keep things easy to find for me is the reduction of visual clutter.  Instead of random jars of this brand of spice or that, I bought empty spice jars that are all the same at a local kitchen store.  I chose those clear glass jars with white lids that are flat on top so I could easily label them with what was inside and only cost about $1.00 each.  I have organized my spice jars alphabetically making it easy to find what I need. I found an old wooden tray at the thrift store that the jars fit into perfectly and put the whole thing in the drawer under our cook-top.  It keeps them right at hand and away from heat and light, two things that can deteriorate the flavors in herbs quickly.  I do have a few containers with larger quantities of herbs and spices along along the edges as well as some less used ethnic spice blends towards the back.

The wood tray and purple box make unloading the drawer quick for cleaning.

By the way, the beauty of my wooden tray is that it makes cleaning a snap.  I can lift the whole works out to clean the drawer when needed.  So do those fancy racks that get kitchen grease all over them and take an hour or more to clean still look enticing?

My very favorite part of what is going on with what I do is not just in the efficiency of how the jars are organized, but that I grow most of the leafy herbs in my stash myself.  That really adds up to some good savings over time and the herbs are the freshest I can get anywhere!  Anything I don't grow I get from the bulk bins at the grocery store so I only purchase what I actually need instead and not that entire jar of something I won't use but once or twice.  For me spending $5 to $7 a jar for something I may use only once or twice or for those things that grow so easily in my garden makes no sense.  Example: In three years that little $3 oregano plant will provide enough for my household and gifts for friends too.

Herbs and seeds grown at home are a great way to save and share the harvest.

If you don't have a drawer like I do just remember that cool, dark and dry are what your dried herbs and spices need to help maintain their flavor as long as possible and make storage adjustments accordingly.  I used to stash my spices in a cabinet right next to the stove but after realizing the heat from cooking was warming up that spot I moved them away from the stove until we installed the drawer.  Try a box or tray slide onto a shelf in the pantry so you can easily pull it out and place it on the counter while you are cooking and put away right after. Where ever you store them be sure they are easy to access and easy to see.  Also be sure to go through them once in a while and refresh the older ingredients and for heaven's sake don't feel bad about getting rid of spices you don't use!  Give them to someone who will or just toss them out.  You may be surprised at how much being organized can inspire your creativity in the kitchen.

Living simply is delightfully inspiring.

Copyright © 2011 by Patty Hicks

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  1. Thank you for an inspiring post. I really need to re-organize a lot of things in my kitchen. I do have my spice jars on a drawer that pulls out from a cupboard and I, too, dislike those spiceracks (cute as they are!). My problem is I keep too many things that I know I'll probably never use again. My pantry is another story...and reading your post made me think how much 'freer' I would feel if I would just get my pantry organized.

  2. Jan I'm so glad you were inspired. It truly does help but remember it needs to be maintained in order to maintain that freedom. Blessings on your efforts.