At my paternal grandmother’s house, La casa de la Maquequelo, we had a despensa — it was like a walk-in closet only for food. I loved it in there because it smelled delicious, of cinnamon, clove, anise seeds, and Mexican chocolate…of dried red chiles, oregano and bay leaves.
It was cool and dark and where the food kept longer in the hot Sonoran desert. It was there she kept the sacks of flower, dried beans, rice, sugar, and strings of garlic hanging on a hook. And it was there that I hid from my brother and cousins when we played hide and go seek.
The word despensa awakens all those aromatic memories of my grandmother’s kitchen and the life I was a part of then — simple, clean, wholesome and unpretentious. There was an orchard in the backyard, with apples, plums, apricots and figs. We had lazy slow-clucking chickens, and a mean rooster. More than once I saw my grandmother kill a chicken for the eventual arroz con pollo placed steaming hot on her white embroidered tablecloth.
The kitchen is the soul of the house.
Now I too have an unpretentious old kitchen, not half as nice or neat as Maquequelo’s but every bit as soulful. Once in a while when I open the cupboard, I get a whiff of cinnamon, chile and chocolate, and I go right back to that rambling old adobe house in Nogales, Sonora, on Calle Morita and it brings me joy.
A well-stocked pantry was a point of pride in those days of frugal and careful living. Fruit was harvested, preserved and stored for winter. Plans were made for the winter holiday celebrations. Life just seemed more gracious, more mindful then, and less hurried and hectic.
Feeling nostalgic for that simple pleasure, I take inventory of my mini pantry and decide to stock it well, like Maquequelo’s.
Besides satisfying the nostalgia of a well-kept kitchen, stocking a pantry can make it easier to live a healthier life. Keeping basic ingredients handy can keep you from calling in a pizza or driving the kids through for fast food. There are ways you can make fast food at home. It’s cheaper and healthier and maybe you can remember your abuela’s kitchen and it will bring you joy.
Here’s my list for a well-stocked Mexican pantry:
En el Refri
These are the basics of my despensa. Some of these ingredients you will have in your dry pantry for weeks and even months, in the case of spices, sugar, flour, etc..And some, such as your refri items, you will need to replenish on a weekly basis depending on your weekly menus. I promise you that if you have most of these at hand, you will cut down on your trips to fast food restaurants or pizza delivery. You and your familia will be healthier and your wallet will be fatter. If I start the week off with these foods in my pantry, I can make at least 10 meals!
What are the staples in your pantry? What is the quickest meal you can make with what you have on hand?