The ‘dry’ larder was more like today’s larder or pantry, this was where the grain, dried fruits, cooked pastries, dried meats and even some types of hard cheeses were stored. The word pantry originated from the Latin word ’panis’ (bread). In medieval times the bread was stored in the ‘panetrie’ (bread chest or closet) and in large households this was maintained by the ‘pantler’. But by the seventeenth century its function had expanded from a closet to a small room in which many foods were stored. It would be situated in a cool area with low humidity (dry) in or near the kitchen and often was vented to the outside. This is where the cross over between the words larder and pantry would have originated, as the dry larder merged with the panetrie.
In smaller household’s wooden kitchen dressers often fulfilled the job of the pantry, some with tilting bins for flour or grain. Later when built in cabinetry became popular these wooden bins were still used in the kitchen and in more modern times these old bins could often be found stuffed with plastic bags!
So, what about today’s pantry?
While many kitchens may have a large pantry style cupboard built in, is it really suitable if you are planning on preserving a large amount of your harvest. The basic requirements for long term dry and canned or bottled food storage are dry, cool and dark. Airflow or ventilation can help keep the room dry and cool as long as it is not drawing air from a damp environment. While laundries are often used for extra storage, they are probably too damp for optimal storage, even cupboards near the bathroom can be too damp. The same can apply to garages and other outside sheds, if you are using these spaces keep an eye on metal lids for rust and for any signs of condensation on or in containers storing bulk foods etc. It is considered best to keep most stored foods below 20°C, but as many foods like flours, nuts, garlic and onions last longer at lower temperatures it is handy to try and achieve this for the whole storage area. Onions and garlic prefer temps of 10 to 15°C, flour is better at even lower temps (freezing flour will increase its storage time to about a year) so finding a balance which works for the type of food stored is best. Cooler temperatures can also help with lessoning insect issues. Light, especially direct sunlight shortens the shelf life of many foods, so make sure the pantry/storage area is dark most of the time.
But there are another couple of factors to consider, the quantity of food you are hoping to store and the weight of it. For example: a 1 litre Agee jar takes up about 10 cm2 of room on the shelf, if you needed to store 50 jars that would be 500cm2 or 1m of shelving 50cm deep. If we were to use recycled jam jars, they would need about 7.5cm2, at 50 jars that would be 375cm2 or 1m of shelving 37.5cm deep. You might be thinking 50 jars is a lot of jars… but say we made enough bottles of tomato sauce for the year, 1 per week, 52 bottles, bottled apples say another 30 large jars, jam x 20 (because you always give some away, right?) chutneys and relishes x 20, beetroot x 10, peaches x 30 large jars, plums x 30 large jars, tomatoes x 40 jars, that’s about 5 metres of 40 to 50 cm wide shelving just there and I haven’t even started on the pressure canning. For our family of four at home, we would probably have to allow for storage of say 500 jars and bottles or more. Then we have to add in the storage of staples like baking items, nuts, dried fruits, dried mushrooms, herbs and spices, teas and coffee, sweeteners, vinegar etc. Some of these are stored in large buckets on the floor, most are in jars for air tight storage. We also have baskets of onions and garlic in our main pantry, this all takes up space.
Then there is the weight of all this, a full 1 litre Agee jar of cooked apple weighs about 1.4kgs, 50 of these jars would weigh 70kg on their 1 metre shelf, that’s a lot of weight for the shelf to carry. Which means thicker shelving and extra bracing if you are planning on storing your bottled goods in this manner. A full reused jam jar weighs just about 500g, which would be 25kg for 50 jars. Storing heavy jars in stackable crates, bins or wooden boxes may be a preferable option and in earthquake prone areas this is a really good storage method. Just make sure the preserves are well labelled and still easily accessible or transfer some to the pantry shelving occasionally, it can be very frustrating having to rummage for something among the stacks of jars.
Earthquake proofing is certainly worth doing if you live in a shaky area, though there seems to be quite a few differing ideas on what is suitable. I have seen tiny ‘lips’ on the edges of shelves or very low wires about 1 cm up, these might stop the jars jiggling off the shelf. But we have experienced quite a few big jolts and prolonged shaking so prefer to go for a higher taunt wire stretched from wall to wall. It’s a bit of a compromise between protection and functionally as we still want easy access to our pantry items. We figure if it shakes so bad most of our jars fall off the shelf with the wire there, then we will probably have bigger issues to worry about than broken jars of food. Which kind of raises the old saying ‘Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket’, using a variety of food storage methods gives you more protection against loses.
For more food storage ideas check out our other articles…