Erma Bombeck once said, “Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices,” she added. Man, I’m a believer.
It came to me about 10 hours ago as I attempted to prepare the obligatory mashed sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. I added the nutmeg as usual and I might as well have added pencil shavings. The nutmeg had no flavor whatsoever. I turned it upside down to check the expiration date and almost fainted. It expired about the time I turned 40 which was during the Reagan administration.
I began checking the date on the other 38 spices stacked three layers high, and four rows deep above my stove top. Some were so old, they didn’t even have expiration dates. The only spices still viable were the garlic powder and something called “Slap Ya Mama” seasoning my son gave me last Christmas. Think he was trying to tell me something?
There were a half dozen cans of poultry seasoning (all expired) which I must purchase each year before making the Thanksgiving dressing. There was apple pie seasoning and I don’t ever remember making an apple pie. Isn’t that sad?
No wonder my would-be culinary masterpieces often fall flat. All my spices and seasonings are stone cold dead. The frugal side of me did not want to toss the spices, but the practical side convinced me it’s necessary.
Practical Reason #1: No one should eat something that is 30 years old.
Practical Reason #2: Spices should have a scent.
Practical Reason #3: Green herbs should not be beige.
Practical Reason #4: Expired spices don’t need to be replaced. I obviously wasn’t using them anyway.
All the expired tins immediately got a proper burial…in the trash can. They weren’t even suitable for the compost pile. Even my Tabasco had turned brown.
The most puzzling thing is that I had no idea what some of the spices should be used for, if ever. There was mace which I probably bought for protection against some unsuspecting burglar. There was something called anise which I don’t recall ever using. Ditto for cardamom which is a mystery.
I read somewhere that a tin of something exotic in your cabinet hints at a well-traveled individual. More likely it reveals a crazy person trying hard to be a modern day Julia Child. I suspected as much the minute I tried to cook pasta in the coffee maker. Clearly, I’m missing the gene to be a great cook. No make that an average cook.
So what’s reasonable regarding the storage of spices? McCormick shares these guidelines for how long spices can be expected to last.
· Seasoning blends: 1-2 years
· Herbs: 1-3 years, Ground spices: 2-3 years
· Whole spices (such as cinnamon sticks and peppercorns): 3-4 years
· Extracts: 4 years (except for pure vanilla, which lasts indefinitely)
McCormick also warns never to store the spices in a warm place. The cabinet above my cooktop is the warmest place in the house. Well, no wonder…
Once all the spices were carried to the street in a garbage bag, I headed to the grocery store to begin rebuilding my seasoning supply. All I really need is salt, pepper, garlic powder and lemon pepper. Oh, and I will need some more poultry seasoning for the dressing. I think I’ll just go ahead and throw it away after measuring out a teaspoon for the dressing.