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Vintage stocked pantry cupboard

Pantries, Butteries and Larders

What every happened to the ubiquitous pantry?

At one time, most farm and urban homes with kitchens had pantries. Even one and two room cabins had cold or root cellars and often smoke and spring houses where food was stored and sometimes prepared.

I’ve noticed in my frequent perusal of old houses that not very many still contain that unique space most often in this region, called a pantry. I don’t mean the butler’s pantry, which was generally a room between the kitchen and the dining room, used to store silver, china and linen. Instead, I refer to that space lined with cupboards, closets and counters, where food was stored, a workroom for a nearby kitchen.

I have many memories of pantries in old family homes I explored while growing up and vintage places I have lived in since. They all smelled heavenly, a blend of coffee, fruit and spices. It was not uncommon to see an earthenware bowl sitting on one of the countertops, containing a fragrant mound of bread dough rising beneath a linen towel. A basket of eggs would be near at hand. Crocks were usually lined up neatly below at least one counter, containing sugar, flour and pungent sour kraut. At least one wall would have open shelves of preserves, storing the bounty of the last season’s gardens. Rows of colorful jams, jellies, pickles, fruits and vegetables awaited enjoyment. A coffee grinder might be waiting to grind beans; shelves of baking pans are ready for the next bread baking, muffin and biscuit preparations. In fact, there very well may be a batch or two cooling on a rack. Fresh cookies fill a large clear jar. Baskets of apples, oranges and lemons may be handy for cooking. A rack of small jars and bottles of mysterious spices and extracts hold fragrant future promises.

How is it that we have displaced this oh so special space? How can we possibly live our daily lives without these rooms?

Well, I guess our meals are simpler to prepare these days. We rely more on freezers to store thaw-and-eat foods. We buy mixes that only require a few simple ingredients be added to create versions of foods it took our forebears much longer to craft. Now, a bit of counter space, a bowl and a spoon, are all that are often required for most ‘modern’ meal preparation.

Today, most pantries have been eliminated to make kitchens larger, or converted to bathroom or laundry space. Has anything been lost? I think so.

The pantry has always been one of my favorite rooms in a house. Now it’s an endangered species. If you are fortunate enough to still have a pantry in your home, please cherish it and enjoy using it. Fill it with lots of things that smell good and breathe deep when you go by.

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