Alice Wyllie: A bit of down-spicing

'My mother had a clearout and uncovered sticky relics from 2006.' Picture: Rob McDougall/TSPL
'My mother had a clearout and uncovered sticky relics from 2006.' Picture: Rob McDougall/TSPL
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A FRIEND recently announced that there are two things all couples argue about: money and sex.

Not in my case, I responded. Hublet (does all the husbandy stuff but I haven’t put a ring on it) and I have but one major point of conflict: condiments. “What, sauce and stuff?” replied said friend.

Yes, sauce and stuff. So much stuff. All that only-vaguely-perishable stuff that comes in jars marked with ‘best before’ dates further ahead than your next passport renewal.

Hublet, I believe, collects condiments like some people collect thimbles or Toby jugs. No supper is too simple for some fanciful new seasoning to be cracked open, a microscopic amount of which will be used before the whole jar is relegated to the kitchen-cupboard-cum-display-cabinet, where it is destined to outlive me.

I imagine opening that cupboard in some distant, dystopian future and wondering if a barely touched bottle of wasabi sauce that went out of date in 2017 could be a viable food source. That’s the thing about cans and jars and stuff. They don’t wear their decomposition honestly, like, say, a bag of salad. They’re vague and cunning. They just smell a bit iffy or look a bit peaky.

Beyond the date stamped on the packaging, we are permitted to consume the contents but should be aware that they’re possibly not in the best of fettle. Such grey areas make for conflict in our relationship. Sure, says Hublet, that jar of rhubarb jam may be 18 months out of date, but it’s harmless. It won’t kill us. It might taste like dust, but it won’t kill us.

This, I implore, cannot be the lone argument for hoarding old preserves. And yet the jam stands its ground. To the list of things that would survive a nuclear holocaust (cockroaches and Keith Richards, I’m told), I would add the rainbow of jams taking up 34 per cent of the minimal storage space in my one-bedroom flat.

Things came to a head recently when there was no room in the fridge for milk because it was so packed with condiments. A clear-out was ordered and – reluctantly – carried out, but then something unexpected happened. Almost-empty jars were rinsed out and reused to house more condiments. And the ‘collection’ was no longer confined to the kitchen; I found a jam jar full of desiccated coconut in the glove compartment of the car.

Though my situation is undoubtedly extreme, I’m sure I’m not alone. Our condiments cupboards are dark corners of our domestic lives that are best left well alone. Behind an initial layer of oft-used seasonings lies a sort of culinary time capsule of our experiments in the kitchen, complete with long-gone ‘best before’ dates. Those pickles and preserves lurking in the back rows of our cupboards are best left unexplored.

My mother recently had a clear-out of her own, and uncovered sticky relics from 2006. Keeping only what was still in date, she was left with little more than balsamic vinegar and some salt. At a recent meal she announced rather proudly that the food was all but seasoning-free, because she had none.

In our time capsule, we discover during the Great Clear-Out of 2013, are two bottles of Japanese rice wine vinegar, the second purchased because we had assumed we didn’t own any. This is the first of many such duplicates. And turmeric. So. Much. Turmeric. A box, a jar and a packet of turmeric. The trifecta of turmeric.

Today, post-purge, I live a simpler life, one without flavour. But it’s a happier life. My omelettes are unseasoned and my salads devoid of dressing, but I can fit milk in the fridge. And that’s what matters. Variety may be the spice of life but spice is the bane of my existence.

Twitter: @AliceWyllie