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Every Cook Wants One – Pantry

By Steven V. Philips –

The 1,100-square-foot house where I grew up was built in 1918. It was in a middle class suburb of a middle sized New England city. The house style was euphemistically called a California Bungalow, meaning that real estate agents lied then too. But this house had, what my mother always ceremoniously pointed out, a butler’s pantry. She prized it.

No butler was ever sighted in this dwelling but mother could hope. Maybe six feet square, this little room sat between kitchen and the dining room. As you walked through, to your right were the lower cabinets, counter over and upper cabinets with glass French doors, all facing a window. Practical and pretty storage.

I just Zillowed the address and today this little room is the only mentioned feature of the house! Listed at $140,000 and 92 years old, but old featuring evidently only one great thing – a butler’s pantry.

Why did all the older houses have them? Pantries, not butlers! Because there were so few cabinets in early kitchens. The pantry was where everything was kept. However by the time I arrived, so had kitchen cabinets. (Look it up. SVP arrived in a kitchen cabinet. A hardy little tyke). By then the pantry was used for extra serving pieces, bulk food storage, the cookie jar and the Manischewitz bottle. And gin for Uncle Charlie’s visits!

Today pantries are really a big deal, in all sizes and configurations.

For example, our friends Ellen & Yalc Mattoon live in the scenic Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts. Yes, it’s Yalc. He’s Samagainian. Climatewise they seem to be about six miles from the North Pole but for sure it’s 40 minutes to the grocery store, so their pantry is their critical in-house commissary. The size of a minivan, it has deep (18″) shelves. The back half of some shelves are three inches higher than the front half. Easier to see you, my dear mango chutney. Plus the upper shelves, from six feet up to the nine-foot ceiling, have doors. Here live the seldom used fondue pots and similar stuff slated for their 2012 tag sale.

Regarding deep shelves, please note right here, Mrs. Philips: There is absolutely no truth to the fact that men don’t like deep shelves as they can’t see anything if it’s not in front. This is such a cruel bit of fiction and so very false. Borderline litigious.

All the open shelves are in an off-white laminate, walls are same hue and the lighting is dual warm fluorescent tubes in ceiling. Plus L.E.D. light strings illuminate the lower shelves. Easier to see you tomato paste. And you want lightness but not glare, thus the warmer hues.

One wall has a Corian 18″ shelf, with bar sink, running full-length with plugmold power outlets all along, fluorescent strip lighting over. For the Mattoon’s big parties here’s where the serious coffee maker and the blender and the warming oven sit. Due to the fact that they live where the snow stays until late June, they also have their wine cooler in here. But although the wine is present, it is a total untruth that Ellen hid in here for several winters from her lovely and adorable children. Please understand that the Dixie cup dispenser was/is for water!

Advantage of a separate room? You can close the door on any clutter. If you’re planning to add a pantry to the architectural plan of a new home or if you’re renovating and want to include a pantry as an upgrade, here are some things to keep in mind.

• On new construction, ask: What am I going to use this pantry for? Is it for dinnerware, food, party stuff, livestock or a mix? Maybe even add in the Mattoons bar idea? (A kiddie-proof haven? You’ll need a lock high on the inside of the door!).

• Have underused existing space? A closet, that adjustable shelving could pantryfy? Over-sized dining room that could lose some square footage along a wall? Or take over your mother-in-law’s whole bedroom.  Hint-hint! Then you could include an extra refrigerator in the pantry or a wine storage unit.
• For dinnerware always use solid shelving. Make all shelves adjustable. Tuna cans, spaghetti sauce jars and cereal boxes have incompatibility issues. Make lower shelves solid. Upper shelves can be wire shelving. Wire allows light to filter down, but bags of rice can slip through.
• Keep the pantry well-lit but not at criminal-interrogation intensity. If possible a skylight or a high window, but definitely “warm” lighting.

• Your ideas still vague? Your skills are hammer-impaired? Try a kitchen design or a closet company.
• Kitchen cabinet manufacturers have great slide-out storage units if the separate area doesn’t work out.
• Hint from the Berkshires. Sprinkle dried basil on shelves. Those swamp Yankees claim that basil = no bugs.

4 Responses to “Every Cook Wants One – Pantry”

  1. Joseph says:

    If I could find room for a nice size pantry I wouldn’t have to keep running up and down the basement stairs….to get more Manischewitz.
    Upper kitchen cabinets would help too!

  2. Lynn says:

    Basil for no bugs? Great idea! I agree with Mrs. Philips on men and deep shelves. Thanks for the tips! Will keep these in mind when we have room for a pantry.

  3. Sue says:

    Love the “prose” of the “pro” on the wonders of the pantry. I, too, long to have a pantry space, but alas, no space. The next house…
    Keep up the great work Mr. Philips — you have demonstrated quite an expertise throughout all of your articles.

  4. Mary says:

    I really enjoy reading Mr. Philip’s articles. Many laughs along with realistic advice. Keep it coming.

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