I really admire an organized, well-stocked refrigerator, but that would not be mine. For nearly thirty years my fridges have been referred to as Mary Poppins’ purse.
If you want it—curry paste (red and green); pickle relish (two kinds of sweet plus dill); Chinese sauces (plum, duck, hoisin, black bean, sweet and sour); mustard (there’s ball park, beer, honey, coarse, and two brands of Dijon); pickled ginger (I’ve pink and white!)—odds are I’ve got it.
When you two were tots, our oversized fridge was stacked high with teetering trays of stuffed cherry tomatoes and snow peas for my catering. And when David was in grad school, our apartment-size model bulged with Cook’s Magazine kitchen cast-offs—experiments gone bad (but still edible) and half-consumed jars of new products. I remember making you damson plum and port wine jelly sandwiches.
But nothing before or since compares with 1991 to 2000 when I tested and wrote all of those Cook’s Illustrated articles (ultimately packaged as The Perfect Recipe and CookSmart). Remember coming home from school with every available dining room and kitchen surface covered with my culinary experiments?
I gave away once-tasted cast-offs to the church office, to the FedEx guy, but in those days, the refrigerator and freezer were never more out of control—cases of greens, stacks of stir-fries, containers of cobblers. As much as I tried to label, there were always mystery packets that outstayed their welcome. And after days of eating and breathing, living and sleeping with that week’s experiment, no one could bear to eat it.
My food articles and book projects still keep our refrigerator embarrassingly full. I cook in quantity and buy in quantity, so we’re not like other people who’ve got dainty jars of pesto, small blocks of parm, and regular bottles of ketchup. Sometimes I’m really embarrassed when people open our refrigerator. “Omigod, look at this,” people say (or polite people think). It’s like they’ve mistakenly opened the door of the freak show at the fair.
But then there are times when I’m proud as hell of my packed-to-the-gills refrigerator. Developing a recipe I realize the dish needs cilantro, which means a trip to the store. So I dig through vegetable bin and spy a produce bag. Nope—parsley. There’s another. Yesss! Some of the leaves are a little slimy, but I salvage just enough.
Gabrielle and Melissa Hamilton used to quote their dad, Jim, who said, “Throw it away today or throw it away next Tuesday.” Most of the time he’s right, but there are those few brilliant moments when you’re able to give something headed for the trash a second life. Just call me the patron saint of lost food.