Spice drawer / JillHough.com

Spring project: Clean out your spice drawer!

A lot has been going on – including a possible new cookbook project and a trip to Rancho La Puerta, to once again be their visiting culinary instructor for the week (here’s my post about last year’s visit). I’ll be telling you more about both soon, but for now, before Memorial Day weekend kicks off the unofficial start of summer, there’s still time for a spring project: clean out your spice drawer!

Why? Because just like the rest of us, dried herbs and spices get old and tired. After about six months, or a year at the most, they don’t have the same vim and vigor that newer, fresher spices have. And so they need to be replaced.

So that curry powder you’ve had since the dawn of time? Toss it! Those cumin seeds you’ve schlepped around over your past four moves? History! I know it’s brutal, but they’ll be going to a better place – perhaps your compost bin.

Saffron jarDon’t know how old your spices are? Here’s a tip – the next time you open a new package of saffron threads or tarragon leaves, mark the month and year on the jar. That way, you’ll know when they’re past their prime.

(And you do keep them in a drawer or cupboard, right? Heat and light can prematurely age herbs and spices – oils, too – so you want them in a cool, dark place.)

Me, I actually have two spice drawers (one is pictured). They’re two of my favorite things about my kitchen, a pair of shallow drawers that slip right under my cooktop, with my herbs and spices arranged alphabetically. Does that make me fastidious? Perhaps. But I blame my friend Kate, who alphabetically arranged the spices at my café, where we worked together. At first, I thought she was crazy – I mean, don’t you just always know where to reach for your rosemary? But I got used to it, and now it makes me happy, because it means I know where to reach for my rosemary AND I get to think of Kate and our time together at the café.

I cleaned out my spice drawer around the first of the year, when I moved back into my kitchen after the water leak. Emptied out the whole drawer, wiped down every bottle of every herb and every spice, and tossed the old stuff. Made me feel all shiny and new – even though it was the spice jars that looked that way. Kind of like getting a facial or a body scrub, only cheaper.

So before Memorial Day, do that last bit of spring cleaning and take on your spice drawer. Your summer cooking will have more oomph and you, too, will feel all shiny and new.

Thanks to a post on one of my favorite blogs, realfoodhascurves, for inspiring this post. Bruce, it seems, is fastidious just like me.

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