Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Practical Pantry: Containers

Ground flaxseed, whole-grain cream of wheat, Tapioca and white popcorn in Mason jars.

Close your eyes and imagine you are sitting in a high school algebra class in a small town in Oklahoma. Come on, you can do it! I know, it makes me break out in hives too. So you are sitting there with all your illustrious classmates and your slight, white-haired teacher says in his nasally voice, "BE resourceful!". You've all been waiting for Mr. K's mantra, you've heard it at least once a day since the semester began. Muffled giggles ripple throughout the room as you exchanged glances with your best friend sitting across the aisle.
Fast forward more years than you care to count and you find yourself as a youngish mother in the midst of the daily chaos that is your life. As you pour popcorn from a five pound bag into a washed out applesauce jar and place it on your pantry shelf, that old admonishment echoes out of the recesses of your memory. "BE resourceful!" Snapping the lid down on a recycled ice cream bucket freshly filled with oatmeal, you hear it again, "BE resourceful!". You pause to reflect on how funny Mr. K would find it that the one thing that has stuck with you out of your high school math class was his pet phrase, "BE resourceful!" (It's important that the emphasis is on the BE part. Draw it out a little bit to get the right effect.)
And that, my friends is the top priority when you are looking for containers for your food-storage. Be resourceful. For small amounts of things, Mason jars, pasta sauce jars or other large jars like the applesauce jar in the top photograph work great. I keep lots of thing in this size of jar. Also, I keep my eyes peeled for any size of glass jar with air-tight lids when I am perusing at thrift shops, flea markets and garage sales. One summer I picked up three or four half-gallon size clamp top jars in one day at garage sales. I regularly find the smaller pint-size clamp top jar at thrift shops. When I see one, I scoop it up. They are great for storing specialty grains or beans that you might not need a ton of. Besides, they look pretty.
Gallon size jars are perfect for storing dry beans and pasta in. The main advantage is that you can easily see what is what and how much you have. Someone gave me a gallon size glass pickle jar. The problem with these is the pickle smell in the lid. Fix this by making a paste of baking soda and water and spreading it on good and thick, then leave it overnight. In the morning, rinse it off and the smell will be gone. Get the word out to friends and relations that you need gallon size jars and you might be surprised at how easily you can round some up.

Now a little word about this photograph. I buy lots of thing in bulk either from a co-op or from our local natural food store. The problem I ran into was that a lot of things like Tapioca have the recipe printed on the box and when there's no box, there's no recipe. After a failed internet search to find the sacred recipe, I realized that I could, "Be resourceful", and tape the recipe onto the jar or lid. This trick is great with any grain or homemade mix that has special instructions.

And this thing of beauty is a Gamma Seal Lid for five gallon buckets. Every time I spin it off of my gigantic bucket of wheat to grind some fresh flour, I have a little moment of remembrance for the olden days when I had to pry the lid off with my delicate fingers and resist the urge to say a potty word. If you are going to use five gallon buckets, get one of these lids! They cost anywhere from six to eight dollars but, Honey, you are worth it!
So, there you have it. My riveting thoughts on containers. Be patient and find some free containers or reuse some of your jars. Look on Freecycle. Ask your friends. Pester your family. Do what it takes to find free food-storage containers. But whatever you do, "BE resourceful!". It would make Mr. K so proud!


Green Acres in the City said...

I love using canning jars for that purpose. I collect the blue masons and my MIL got me several and found lids to fit. I have a whole shelf devoted to those babies in my pantry.

Susan said...

Audra, I once went to the school cafeteria ladies and asked them to save the gallon-sized jars from pickles and any other sauces for me. I would go by and pick them up ... of course, at the time I wanted them for terrariums that my daughter's Girl Scout troop needed for badgework. Now I think those jars would be perfect for sugar, flours, grains, etc... perhaps your readers might think about contacting their local schools if they need large containers for setting up their pantry shelves...

Audra said...

Great idea, Susan! I know you can get food grade plastic buckets from some bakeries, you might need a new lids for them though. Hopefully they would wash all the icing out first!

Elece Hollis said...

Good ideas all, Audra. You are so smart. Must take after your mama. I bought 36 wide-mouth canning jars at salvation Army thift store this week. for $3.60. Ten cents each! I will store oats and brown rice and such in them. I keep brown rice in the freezer though.
Love, Mama