|The Pantry, book review
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The Pantry: Its History and Modern Uses
by Catherine Seiberling Pond
(Gibbs Smith: cloth, 96 pages, $16.95)
Book Review by Rebecca Rule
Catherine Seiberling Pond dedicates The Pantry to her father, James Henry
Seiberling, and grandfather, James Penfield Seiberling. How appropriate, since
pantries are all about family and tradition, along with security and abundance:
our family won’t go hungry so long as the pantry is well stocked.
I was reminded of this while doing research in Berlin for a project called
“Telling Our Stories.” (Known at my house as “Forty Days and Forty nights in
Berlin.”) My mission is to talk with groups and individuals about their
experiences in the logging industry, the mills, and just plain being part of the
community -- preserving some of the oral history of this rapidly changing area.
Rolanda Duchesne, whose husband worked in the mills for decades, said, “The
first day I found out the mill closed, I went out and bought a case of canned
milk.” She added, wryly: “I don’t use canned milk.” Somehow having a full
larder made her feel safe. “When the food gets low,” she said, “then you begin
to worry.” She filled the freezers and the cupboards to stave off the hard times,
as homemakers have always done.
Except during World War II, when “hoarding” was discouraged, but home
canning encouraged, author Pond tells us. “Pantry,” she writes, “the crisp, even
tidy, sound of the word conveys a sense of order.” These little rooms, spaces
carved out of larger rooms, or even self-contained Hoosier cabinets “harbor a
nostalgic whiff of our domestic past.”
Pond, who has designed several for her 1813 home in Hancock, New
Hampshire, recalls the full tin of ginger cookies ever present in her
grandmother’s pantry. “I can still smell and taste them in my mind,” she writes.
A “fellow pantry aficionado” told Pond she could “live in a pantry and be
perfectly content,” maybe because pantries remind her of Chip and Dale
cartoons from when she was little. “They lived in a walnut that had little
shelves with little jars and nuts. It was so cozy.”
The Pantry, a cozy book, churns up memories. Who doesn’t have a fond
recollection of somebody’s home cooking, warm kitchen, jars of strawberry
preserves, or cotton-print apron hung from a peg? Pond provides an abundance
of photographs of all kinds of pantries, from Victorian serving pantries once
manned by butlers to Judy Johnson’s 1995 between-the-studs innovation.
Johnson tore out wall board, added shelves and slatted doors, neatly stocked
the shelves with tins of tea and jars of herbs and staples -- instant pantry.
The pictures alone tell many stories: eggs on a worktable, stacked china plates,
a shelf of oil lamps over cooking pots on hooks, bushel baskets of winter
squash, a tin bread box, canned pickles and beans, a crock full of rolling pins,
canisters marked Flour, Sugar, Coffee, Tea. Pond writes around the pictures.
She gives the history of the pantry as it evolved from Victorian formality
through the farmhouse pantries of rural America. She explains terms like
Butt’ry (“a cool, dry place for foodstuffs”), Root Cellar, Milk House, Summer
Kitchen, and Springhouse: “built over a cold flowing spring, often channeled
into a sluiceway or flanked by flat rocks on which to place foodstuffs. The room
was cold and the perfect place to store dairy goods and other perishable items.”
She finds pantries in vintage advertisements, children’s books including Johnny
Gruelle’s Raggedy Anne Stories (1918) and Lucy M. Montgomery’s Anne of
Green Gables. She quotes wisdom from old cookbooks and housekeeping how-
tos. Sarah Josepha Hall recommends keeping “crusts and pieces of bread” in
“an earthen pot or pan, closely covered in a cool, dry place.”
Though “modern” kitchens are a bit anti-pantry with their oversized appliances
and granite-topped islands, and though the popularity of the pantry declined
through the 20th century, Pond writes, “A funny thing happened on the way to
the millennium: we began to cook more, bake more, buy more, and stockpile
more.” Yes, many of us want big kitchens and cable-ready stainless steel
refrigerators that make their own ice cubes (!), but “Near our large kitchens, we
also want that cozy, well-ordered room where we might be reminded of our
grandmother’s house or where we know that somehow in a crazy world, a full
larder will keep us safe -- or at least well supplied in canned goods and other
The Pantry is a delight. To purchase a copy, click here:
Here’s part of a poem by A.B. Braley, first published in The Boston Cooking-
School Magazine in 1906, one of several that speak to the pantry’s universal
My Mother’s Cooky Jar
In a dim old country pantry where the light just sifted through,
Where they kept the pies and spices and the jam and honey, too,
Where the air is always fragrant with the smell of things to eat,
And the coolness was a refuge from the burning summer heat, --
It was there I used to find it, when I went to help myself, --
That old cooky jar a-setting underneath the pantry shelf.
Talk of manna straight from heaven! why, it isn’t on a par
With those good old-fashioned cookies from my mother’s cooky jar.
I am sick of fancy cooking; I am weary of the ways
Of the butlers and the waiters. Give me back my boyhood days!
Give me back the good ol kitchen, with its roominess and light,
Where the farm hands did their “sparking” almost every winter night!
Give me back my boyhood hunger and the things my mother made!
Give me back that well-filled pantry where I used to make a raid!
Take me back, as though forgetting all the years which mark and mar --
Let me taste once more the cookies from mother’s cooky jar!
Catherine Seiberling Pond writes a blog on domestic life. You’ll find it at
inthepantryblogspot.com. For more information on the “Telling Our Stories”
project, go to www.aannh.org, the web site for the Arts Alliance of Northern
New Hampshire, one of the project’s sponsors.
About the book reviewer:
Rebecca Rule is a humorist, author and storyteller, who is the author of two
collections of short fiction, including The Best Revenge, winner of the NH
Writers Project award for fiction.