Ruminations from a pioneer pantry

Before electricity came to Saskatchewan farms in 1944 following the election of Tommy Douglas’ CCF party , in our Eaton house a pantry off the kitchen took the place of a refrigerator for everything except milk and cream. In summer those foods cooled sitting in a pail lowered to the water surface of a well some distance from the house.

Organizer Marie Kondo would have approved of Mom and Dad’s maxim, a place for everything and everything in its place, but she would have been horrified to see the odd collection of what found a home in Mom’s pantry.

Kondo’s primary rule for organization is to first decide what activity will happen in the space, who will use the space, and what should or should not live there.

Kondo would have been distressed by Mom’s categories all wedged within the 5 by 9 foot dimensions of her pantry. In many respects, it resembled a 1930’s country store except it lacked horse harness and wiffletrees.

The space had three walls lined waist high to fingertip reach with sturdy wooden shelves 12 inches deep from front to back. As you walked in, on the left two hooks – one on either side of the door to the cellar — held our kids’ jackets. With five kids, often the topmost jacket’s grip on the hook was precarious at best. Next a wall of three long shelves: on the bottom shelf would go a butter dish between meals, leftovers such as fried pork sausage or cooked potatoes, a 2 lb. can of strawberry jam, another of creamed Manitoba honey. On the far end of that shelf perched a kitchen scale Mom used to weigh the chickens we oven-readied and sold through the summer and fall. On the middle shelf beyond a display of our favourite breakfast cereals — corn flakes, grape nuts , Rice Krispies sat a variety of edibles in jars or covered dishes – pickles, mustard … plus Pinex cough syrup, Mom’s one remedy for what might ail us internally, and Vick’s VapoRub.

The topmost shelf was forbidden to us.There Dad stored boxes of bullets for the shotgun and .22 leaning behind the pantry door . They, too, were off limits. Even I as the weekend housecleaner avoided touching them. When Dad said, “Don’t touch!” we didn’t , no surveillance camera needed.

At the far end of the pantry on the floor sat a masonite bread box Dad had built to hold the dozen loaves of bread Mom baked weekly. We all loved Mom’s bread but as the sandwich maker, I envied kids with McGavin’s for their geometric loaves with level tops. Mom’s slices only fit lunch pails sideways.

This wall was topped by a shelf with Mom’s aluminum roasting pan, shiny as new.

Below was a shelf that would cause Kondo to gulp Aleve. The far end was heaped with our mittens, toques and scarves. Finding a fallen mitten in an empty kettle hanging below next to a covered kettle of Chicago doughnuts was too common. On the front half of that shelf marched a regiment of Watkins’ spices from cinnamon, ginger and cloves for Christmas cookies to dry mustard for flavouring yellow bean pickles.

Some form of lighting would have made the pantry ideal. Still, a weekend late riser could disappear into the pantry’s dark depths with a dinner plate and knife to reappear minutes later balancing a tray of Chicagoes white with vanilla icing.

Try matching that in a modern refrigerator.

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