Weevils, pudding dolls and the vinegar mother.

Yesterday, I cleaned out the panty and half-filled a wheelie bin with foods past
their used by date, including the occasional packet of flour, sesame seeds or polenta infected
by weevils, and two pots of honey that had gone to sugar.  
It snuck up on me as jobs
like this do.  
My husband had not been able to find the pot of salted capers he bought several months ago and wanted them last night to
liven up his salad.  
He searched high and low and accused me or
unknown others of throwing out his stuff. 
Salted capers do not go off, he said. They do not exceed their use by date. It was just wanton throwing out of his most precious stuff.  
My husband’s mother gave away his photograph
album to some neighbour’s kid when he went away for a few months in his
teens.  He has never quite forgiven her
for this, among other things. 
And so I started on the pantry and found the capers third row down against the back wall. 
We designed our pantry to fit into a
corner of the kitchen with deep shelves that form a triangle at its innermost
It was a mistake.  These places are hard to
reach.  Things build up there and
die.  They go past their use-buy dates,
they multiply. 
In the clean up, I found four varieties of
tomato and pizza sauces, and three different types of jars of vegemite.  We had four of honey, two of which I threw
out, and at least five already opened packs of flour, of brown sugar and bread
The worst offender was salt.  
My husband collects salt: Cyprian salt, pink rock salt from the Himalayas, kosher salt, ordinary Saxa salt, fine granulated salt,
cooking salt for the salt pig on the bench, and black salt from Greece.
Alongside the salt, he collects peppercorns of every colour.  No need to throw out any of these.  They do not perish, but they take up space.  
The pasta packets, many opened, all varieties from tagliatelle
to spiralli and rigatoni are my responsibility.  Not to
speak of the rice varieties and the noodles, mostly instant, Maggi and the
tastier Japanese stuff.  
You name it we
have it. 

I was at a conference once where someone used the pantry as a metaphor, an excellent metaphor I thought at the
This woman talked of the way we allow everyday things to come to the front
and forget about the stuff that lies behind, until we do a cull and are surprised
by all the now useless stuff we have collected.  
These past accumulations need periodically to be examined and, if necessary, removed
in order to make room for the new. 
Which brings me to pudding dolls.
Last Sunday we celebrated Christmas
with my husband’s family at one of his sister’s place in Healesville.  It’s a traditional affair, with turkey and
ham, but the best of all is my other sister-in-law’s plum
She makes it gluten free, on account of her coeliac disease, which does not matter one wit for those of us who can
tolerate gluten, because my sister-in-law is a great cook and the recipe is tried and true over
thirty years of practice. 
Years ago my sister in law came across some
pudding dolls in an opportunity shop.  
These days she sprinkles both pudding dolls and silver
coins throughout her pudding and every year we joke about who will be having
babies in the year to come. 
It’s pure luck as to whether any of us finds a tiny
piece of porcelain shaped something like a Kewpie doll but not half so
In fact they’re ghoulish, especially one of the tiny ones, which my brother in law reckons was born
We make a fuss when one of the
young eligible ones, male or female, finds a baby in their pudding.  It’s a sign of hope for the future.  Hope in the next generation when the rest of us can only encourage new life from the sidelines. 
And finally, I
thought I saw a ghost in the vinegar bottle last night but it turned out to be a ‘vinegar
My husband tells me the vinegar mother is akin to
a starter for yeast or sour dough bread, rather like
 the bacillus that gets yoghurt going in milk.  It creates each new batch of
vinegar afresh.
And so we reproduce, weevils and babies and vinegar.  And from time to time, we cull.  


10 thoughts on “Weevils, pudding dolls and the vinegar mother.”

  1. I cleaned out our pantry last year and (already?) it's time to do it again. Funny you mentioned salt – last time I too found about six packets or jars of salt, and quite a bit of tomato paste and pizza sauce as well. I'm a terrible shopper, constantly buying Worcestershire and forgetting soy, as I get them mixed up and I always know I need one of them but I never remember the right one.
    I'd never heard of pudding dolls or vinegar mothers – interesting and both a little but creepy too.

  2. Yes, pantries do tend to be of foodstuffs, many of which are needed but rarely. If, however, you put honey (without its metal lid) into the microwave for a few seconds at a time, the sugar will dissolve. If crystals remain, just microwave again. There are so many lovely flavoured honeys.
    I have to ensure that I have anti-moth things in my pantry…sigh.

  3. Hi Elizabeth,
    Great story. I especially love the skill with which you wrap your stories up, back at the beginning, so-to-speak.
    It's wonderful and I often wonder if you learned this from writing class or it just comes naturally. I guess it really doesn't matter much, as it's better appreciated than dissected.
    Best Wishes for a good New Year to you and your family and PLEASE…keep writing. 🙂

  4. I did this a few months ago and I need to do this again. I have a jar of vegemite with a use before date of 2006 – I still use it – nothing wrong with it. Vegemite, like cockroaches, will outlast nuclear war.

    I love the way you write.

  5. Never knew about pudding dolls but a silver threepenny bit was always placed in Xmas puds back in the 1940s/50s in England.

    You've again written a lovely and informative post. I do so love your style.

    The pantry metaphor to which you referred is quite wonderful. And so appropriate. We tend to clutter our mind and memory bank with day to day odds and sods and thus force so many things into the back of our mind.

    I have kept an 'occasional' diary and this week, after our house moving, I've been reading my day by day diary of 1984. Details in this journal suddenly came to the front again. How much I'd forgotten was just like a crowded pantry! I asked my wife: "Do you know what we did on the afternoon of 5th March 1984?". Of course she didn't, so I read the paragraph aloud. Gasps and denial issued forth. But there it was, in blue ink on white paper. I cannot divulge that little memoir as it is 'private'! Know what I mean? Nudge nudge, wink wink.

  6. My wife says the wee dolls are called Frozen Charlottes. Never heard of them or of the practice of putting them in food. I’ve always hated the custom of secreting sixpences—wonder what is became after decimalisation?—in the Christmas pud; terrified I’d break a tooth on one. Mealtime is a time to relax. I hate it when Carrie says to watch out for bones or for a bay leaf she couldn’t find; there’re enough things in this life to create tension without a bowl of pasta being one.

    A while back Carrie and I decided to give up gluten for a while to help with my wheat belly—who’d ever heard of such a thing?—and it did make a surprising difference. For a while we were rigorous about it but now we’ve relaxed a bit. Our bread and pasta is still mostly gluten free and a lot of our biscuits but next door gave us a box of cookies for Christmas and there was no way they were going in the bin no matter what was inside them.

    As far as throwing out food goes I do try and not to. I really hate waste but occasionally even we get caught out and it is invariably cooking stuff. I’m afraid I’m not an aficionado of salt or pepper. There was a time when I salted everything indiscriminately but I’ve managed to wean myself off it and now the only things I ever sprinkle a few grains on are chips. I don’t even salt my eggs these days. I’m a good boy. I watch my weight and try to eat healthily all of which is especially important because I really don’t exercise enough. It’s something I’m conscious of and plan/hope/might address this year with my more relaxed workload. My dad was always going for walks when we were young. “I’m going for a walk—who wants to come with me?” He did that once when my daughter was there and she wanted to know where we were going. “Just for a walk.” “But where to?” She really struggled with the concept of “a walk” and I felt like I’d failed her.

    Never had polenta. Looks horrible. I hate anything mashed. I won’t eat mashed potato or neeps (swedes) which is what haggis traditionally gets served with. Mostly we eat our haggis with pasta with a little sweetcorn stirred in. I was a grown man before I tasted haggis for the first time. My parents were English and cooked what they were comfortable with. I like it. It’s like a spicy, slightly dry mince. Works best with conchiglie. And that was another thing I never ate until I left home too, pasta. I think my mum might’ve bought Heinz Spaghetti Hoops or Alphabetti Pasta Shapes but that would’ve been her limit. She wasn’t the most adventurous cook. But I do miss her suet dumplings. Terribly unhealthy but wonderful all the same.

  7. I helped a friend a couple of years ago with her pantry being in a similar state, sadly it was found many of the weevils had cocooned, hatched and spread throughout the rest of the house. Books, magazines, clothing, etc; all showed evidence of dead moths, empty cocoons,and so on. Oh the throwing out we did! She had noticed the tiny moths and hadn't connected them to pantry weevils.

  8. My SiL offered to clean out and reorganise my pantry when my husband (her brother) was ill.
    There was little she could do to change the course of his fate but this was a small act of service to me, the person who would care for him and for me it was learning to let go and allow others a place in our journey. But that's another conversation for another time.
    She performed the task with amazing efficiency and logic (and the minimum of tut-tutting)and my pantry is now so well ordered that I cannot believe how scatterbrained it – and my mind – was.
    I love my new, improved pantry and am diligently determined to follow her lead (with just the odd lackadaisical placement). Now, to his shed and personal effects . . .

Leave a Reply to Anthony Duce Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.