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.
Mom, I had a good belly laugh reading about the Mary Poppins Fridge, peanut butter and damson plum jelly sandwiches and other people’s reaction to your fridge. I feel your pain. When people from the US visit me they laugh at my fridge too – just for the opposite reason. It’s about 1/8th the size of your gargantuan Frigidaire. Americans will have to see it to believe it.
There is simply no room for lingering leftovers, rogue containers, back up supplies, pots, jams, jars or otherwise. We just about fit the basics in. We can’t really do that big, weekly shop or buy things in bulk to store in the freezer (which is 1/2 the size of our fridge). I guess this is why wholesale hasn’t really taken off over here.
There are benefits and drawbacks to having a small fridge. The drawbacks are obvious. Like when we had our 4th of July BBQ and practically had to empty the fridge to chill the beer. Or those nights that the fridge is bare and I can’t face a trip to the supermarket. But there are benefits as well. There’s something nice about cooking in the moment. I like thinking about what I want to have for dinner in the evening instead of thinking what can I make from what I already have? And there’s less waste. It’s harder for a bag of lettuce or a half eaten container of yogurt to go missing in some unknown corner of my fridge. There’s nowhere for food to hide!
Honestly, I’m just trying to look on the bright side. I’m tired of playing Tetris with the food in my fridge just to fit it all in. You best believe I’ll be getting a nice, big fridge with the ice and water dispenser in the door when Andy and I move to the States in January. But I’d like to keep some of my principles I’ve had to develop as a small fridge owner. I know you’ll let me know when I’ve totally gotten American again.
Mom, if you walked into our house at this moment and looked in the fridge, you’d probably turn around and walk right out, convinced you had the wrong address.
Since you guys have been gone, it hasn’t been the usual game, musical Tupperware—moving, swapping, and if all else fails forcing—in an effort to accommodate new arrivals. The only movement going on in this fridge is the 18-inch shift from shelf to trash.
I was all full of righteous indignation when you left for the summer, taking with you almost all the food in the house. The fridge was practically empty by our standards—which meant that, while you couldn’t see the back, there was a little breathing room around its contents. But slowly, everything you did leave went stale or moldy, and the never-before-seen whiteness of the sides of our workhorse Whirlpool started to emerge.
I could say you took all the “good stuff” leaving me with the unmarked containers whose age, like a Hollywood actress, I couldn’t even begin to guess. And that would be true. But it’s also true that I haven’t touched a damn thing in there since you slammed the trunk of the Toyota on all our Connecticut culinary booty, and drove away.
I loathe the idea of cooking for one. It seems to buck against everything you ever taught me—that food is about flavor and sustenance for sure, but it’s just the catalyst for something infinitely more important: relationships. I’ve got to be better about it, to accept that I am going to have to start warming to the idea of cooking (and eating) solo, because in a few days I’ll be in my new apartment with my very own fridge. And you won’t be there with a Gladware safety net to catch me when I starve.
I also have to remember that taking the time to cook for myself is a crucial part of a lesson that’s rather new to you, but that you’ve been working overtime to drill into our heads: you’ve GOT to take care of yourself, first and foremost. And so, with that, I am going to do something with the fresh produce my boss gave me (oh the joys of working for a food magazine)—corn, eggplant, bell peppers, and the most beautiful cilantro I’ve ever seen. Not sure what I’ll do with it all, Mags’ll be happy that it will probably be meatless. I’ll let you know how it goes next week.
Modern refrigeration is a marvel if one considers how early Americans kept their foods fresh. Various forms of ‘larders’ were used to preserve food E.g. ‘cold houses’ built below ground level. Ice was obtained from nature, and shipped off to be sold at very high prices to rich Americans. Fridges made the Chicago meat packing industry possible. Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’ paints a lurid picture, of a vertically integrated industry, enabled by refrigeration. George Washington ate millions of dollars worth of ice cream, imported from France, while a resident of New Amsterdam. The ice cream was expensive, because of the then economics of ice. How was ice preserved? Ice, ice and more ice.
I just discovered your blog and am already loving it. My fridge tends to be in the state of despair. Desparing over missing ingredients. Desparing over having to throw something out. Desparing over not enough room. Desparing over being too empty. We have a lot of ebb and flow around here. I think my fridge may be bipolar. It loves me, It loves me not!
Thanks for this post,
Hah! And I’ve seen Pam’s refrigerator – at least one of them. Recently, lying in bed for several days, ill, I listened to my frig door open and close as family and friends administered TLC, cooked marinated lamb, pot roast and Yorkshire Pudding, and other favorites that I couldn’t stomach. Today I finally stumbled into the kitchen and cracked open the frig – nearly unrecognizable. But at least there’s leftover pot roast. Now where is the leftover lamb??! Here’s to full refrigerators!
Thanks for the familiar word pictures. We just got home from a hunting trip to Wyoming…
and bought a 20.something cubic foot freezer to hold the mass quantity of red meat we just picked up from the butcher. Elk, antelope and venison is on the menu in Illinois!