I spent most of my life living in Armed Forces housing, most of my homes being cookie cutter stamps of the same house . . . the only thing different being it's location, having lived in almost every province in Canada. My father was in the Air Force as was my ex husband. Small, comfortable and sadly lacking in space, something I always wanted to have was a . . . larder.
A lovely room, however large or small, that I could stuff to the rafters with all of the provisions that I could possibly want or need to be able to provide tasty meals for my family . . . something along the same lines as those tasty tuck boxes I used to read about in all those Enid Blyton stories I devoured as a girl . . . but on a much larger scale.
My nan had one as did my first mother in law . . . the shelves filled with jars of preserves, boxes of apples and potatoes, all safely tucked into their newspaper sleeves and beds of straw, nylon stockings full of onions hanging from pegs and smoky hams and sausages hanging from the rafters . . . my grandfather even had barrels of his own homemade kraut.
Finally I have been blessed with a small room that we call the larder here at Oak Cottage . . . a tiny room with shelves along it's walls which lays just off our back entrance, tucked away behind a sliding wooden door. My shelves are lined with all sorts of food stuffs and I pride myself on being able to go inside and produce a tasty meal out of the goodies on it's shelves without much problem at all.
Here are some of the items I would never be without and that I think all kitchens should have in their storecupboards and larders. My favourites list and things I always have at hand here at Oak Cottage.
Good Quality chocolate, for baking and for eating. Although Todd doesn't really like chocolate cakes or the like, I do like to keep a good quantity of nice chocolate on hand to bake brownies and the occasional chocolate cake. Something with at least a 70% cocoa content. I also like to keep a variety of cocoa powders, both natural and Dutch process.
A good quality Balsamic Vinegar, along with an assortment of other vinegars. Sherry, White and Red wine, Apple Cider, Malt, and Rice Wine. You really do get what you pay for here. I also make my own tarragon and other flavoured vinegars, using a good white wine vinegar.
An assortment of mustards, including a good Dijon, grainy, English, and Dry mustard powder. I use them in vinaigrettes, marinades and you just can't beat a nice ham sandwich on a rustic loaf and adorned with a good slather of a tasty mustard.
Capers. I keep several varieties on hand, salt preserved, regular, those exquisite little non pareil capers and delicious caper berries. They are fabulous in sauces and dressings and salads. A Nicoise salad would not be the same without the adornment of caper berries.
Dried mushrooms, an assortment . . . all woodsey and earthy and just waiting to be steeped and made into a delicious soup or tucked into a tasty stew.
Dried pasta. Of course it is nice if you have the time and energy to make your own pasta, but one cannot overlook the blessing of having good quality dried pasta to hand. I like to keep a variety in my larder, some short kinds such as macaroni, and then the longer ones like Spaghetti, linguine, some noodles of various widths, farfelle, lasagna, and of course fusilli and other twisty types. I prefer Italian brands myself.
French Cornichons. Great with cold cuts and cheeses and an indispensable ingredient for making tartar sauce and certain salsa verdes. I also keep several other pickles and chutneys . . . pickled cipoline onions, mango chutney, Branstons and a good quality piccalili.
Dried Spanish Chorizo sausages. These are fantastic additions to omelets, sauteed potatoes, salads, stews, the possibilities are endless. I wouldn't be without them.
Italian tinned plum tomatoes, whole, chopped and pureed. A tin of them and you always have a ready soup to hand, or a tasty pasta sauce . . . the uses are endless.
I love French Mayonnaise. Rich and glossy and in a class of it's own.
Extra Virgin Olive oil, in a variety of guises. I like a nice mild one for cooking and a stronger more full flavoured one for use in salads. I prefer Greek.
A variety of olives, black and green. I love Greek Kalamata, the tiny nicoise olives of France, spanish black and green. I adore oil cured and dried black and green olives and always have several packets of them to hand, ready to be tossed into salads, baked into loaves or pizzas, and to be used as tasty hors d'ouevres and tapas, or eaten out of hand . . . just because . . .
I love honey and I always have several jars in the larder. Runny varities, Italian, French sunflower and lavender, Greek with it's lovely licorace flavour and good old clover honey. I also love set honey, all creamy and white and spread onto thick slices of toasted and buttery home made bread . . . carrots are delicious steamed and then glazed with butter and honey . . .
A variety of flours, organic and stone ground, French, plain, self raising, strong (both white and brown) whole wheat, malt, spelt. They all have their uses, but, please, only keep what you are going to use within a few weeks to hand on the shelves. Store the rest in the freezer as it can go rancid very quickly.
I like to keep quite a few different sugars . . . light and dark soft brown, caster and granulated white, golden caster, icing sugar, dark and light muscovado, demerara, lump sugar. They all have their uses. I also keep a variety of syrups such as Golden, Dark Treacle, Molasses and Maple.
I love Maldon Sea Salt and French fleur de sel. I use them in almost all my cooking. I do keep a large tin of household salt as well, along with a variety of pepper corns . . . green, pink, black and a lovely mixture of the three.
Garlic both regular and smoked, and shallots and onions, both brown cooking and red. These are a must for me, and used often.
A variety of good quality dried herbs and spices. I have quite a few different ones and I use them all frequently. I do love fresh herbs, but the uses of a good quality bottled herb cannot be underestimated.
One thing that I absolutely love and adore is unearthed barrel aged feta cheese. I know this is kept in the fridge but I just couldn't not mention it. It's wonderfully delicious and worth every penny. I also keep a good Parmesan Reggiano that I grate myself and a variety of different strengths of cheddars.
I also have a weakness for Danish butter. It's very good, and I always have several pounds of it in the fridge and freezer, sweet and salted, not to mention some good vegetable shortening.
This is by no means an extensive list of all the things that one should have in their larders, but just a few of my favourite things. It goes without saying that one should keep a variety of tinned fishes as well as fresh fruits and vegetables amongst other things, and I do. I just thought it would be fun to talk about some of my most beloved ingredients.
One thing that you are never short of if you keep bananas, eggs and milk around is a tasty bowl of bananas and custard, my Todd's dessert of choice. Old fashioned yes, delicious yes, satisfyingly comforting, yes . . .
*Bananas and Custard*
You can call it many names . . . creme de la vanille, creme anglaise . . . it matters not. It's all vanilla custard and it is wonderfully delicious when properly made and homemade. Why anyone would ever bother with the powdered version when they can make it so easily from scratch is beyond my comprehension!
1 pint whole milk (2 cups)
1 vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
1 TBS caster sugar
4 medium bananas
Put the milk in a saucepan. Slit the vanilla pod down the centre and scrape out the seeds into the milk with a sharp knife. Drop the split pod into the milk as well. Heat the milk over a medium heat, just until you see bubbles forming around the edges. Remove from the heat and remove the vanilla pod. (Just rinse it off and dry it and you can then stick it into your sugar bin where it will give your sugar a lovely flavour and fragrance . . . no worries and no waste.)
Beat together the egg yolks and the sugar. Pour the hot milk over top of it very slowly, whisking constantly. Strain the mixture into the top of a double boiler. Place over the top of the bottom of the double boiler over simmering water and cook ove rvery low heat, stirring all the time. When it thickens to the consistency of double cream (it should coat the back of your spoon), remove it from the heat and pour it straight into a bowl to reduce the heat. Let cool to warm, before proceeding.
The secret to successful custard is to not be in a hurry. If the worse happens and it starts to separate, whizz it in the blender. You can of course, pre-empt this problem by adding a small teaspoon of cornstarch to the egg yolks before adding the milk.
Peel and slice the bananas into four dessert dishes. Spoon the warm custard over top of them and serve.