While ransacking the kitchen cabinet for cinnamon, I unearthed a gummy-lidded bottle of caraway seed.
Stamped in tiny red print, nearly invisible to my naked eyes, was its best-by date: Dec. 24, 2010. For 10 years, this past-its-prime squatter had been occupying prime real estate on my spice shelf. One teaspoon of seeds at most had been swiped from it.
“Hey, do you remember baking pumpernickel bread 10 years ago?” I asked my spouse.
Although we’re familiar with the expression “there’s no such thing as a stupid question,” I can assure you that the above question is stupid.
Furthermore, our entire vintage spice collection is idiotic.
We’re basically a two-seasonings family — salt and pepper. Yet we’re living with two bottles of dill weed, tarragon leaves, fennel seed, crushed rosemary, ground ginger, mangled cilantro leaves and dozens more tins and jars. I made up the “mangled” bit, but it’s possible because the cilantro leaves have been buried under a bag of fossilized brown sugar since 2013.
It amazes me that two truly part-time cooks have accumulated such an arsenal of seeds, stems, roots, leaves, buds, barks, berries and herbs. From the looks of it, you’d think we were preparing exotic recipes from Bon Appetit every evening, instead of fixing two-bean salad (once) from the “Licking, Missouri, Community Cookbook.”
“It’s a new year, and I’m turning over a new bay leaf and cleaning out all these dead spices,” I declared. “Some of these are teenagers, and they’re hogging a whole cabinet shelf.”
“Whoa. Don’t be so hasty,” hollered the other truly part-time cook. “Spices are expensive, and they don’t go bad. You never know when we’ll need a tablespoon of juniper berries.”
I can’t remember ever using a juniper berry. It sounds like it belongs in a bird feeder instead of a breakfast.
It’s true that deceased spices don’t smell rotten and “go bad,” but the problem is they’re no longer able to “go good.” We might as well sprinkle fairy dust on our recipes.
I made an executive household decision and gathered all of our over-the-hill spices and filled a trash bag. If we ever need another caraway seed or juniper berry, I’ll buy some fresh ones.
Meanwhile, my cinnamon toast is missing cinnamon until I go to the store. But my salt and pepper have a shelf entirely to themselves.
Marti Attoun’s “Booth 186: My Secondhand Career in Vintage Corsets, Moose Heads and Other Moth-Eaten Antiques,” is available as an e-book on Amazon.