Illustration by Daniel Vasconcellos, vasky.com.
When I first went gluten free, the first thing I did was clean out my pantry. I just had to purge every product that contained gluten, and I didn’t care what I was throwing away. Looking back, I wish I had been a little less rash. Maybe then I wouldn’t have stuffed my kitchen with every gluten-free flour I could get my hands on. Bags of flour would fall out of my overhead “pantry” onto the floor, or rubber bands holding the bags closed would break and flour would spill over my head like a waterfall.
But with 10 years of gluten-free baking now under my belt, I’ve finally come up with a sweet set of rules for saving space in my kitchen.
If you are like me, post-holiday kitchen re-organization is a must because of the influx of flours, gadgets and foods you get as gifts. When I’m really busting at the seams, I usually host a baking party so my friends and I can bake our way through my glut of flour, but this isn’t practical for day-to-day living. Thankfully there is a simple way to get your gluten-free pantry under control.
Divide and conquer.
First, go through all your flours and toss the ones that have expired. Store all the nut meals in either the refrigerator or freezer, double wrapped, so moisture will not dampen the contents.
Next, dedicate one shelf in your pantry to all the flours and baking mixes you use on a regular basis and another less-accessible shelf to flours you only use sparingly. You will be able to keep an accurate inventory of the flours you have, and you’ll quickly realize which ones you don’t need. You can repeat this process with the rest of your pantry, for example, with other baking ingredients, canned goods and pastas.
Keep things properly contained.
The shape of your containers can be the key to making the most of the space. Organize in accordance with your surroundings. One of the biggest, space-consuming problems in any kitchen is the use of containers that don’t take advantage of the available surface area. If you have limited storage space, use rectangular, stackable containers instead of the popular round ones. A cylindrical shape can waste a lot of available shelf space, while a rectangle fits quite nicely into that 90-degree corner. I live in a really small apartment, so every inch counts. Put your flours and baking mixes in these storage containers, eliminating as many bags as possible. Condense multiples of the same flour or mix in one container.
Put a label on it.
Once your flours are neatly in containers, label each one, otherwise you might not be able to tell the teff from the tapioca. I don’t know about you, but even if you can memorize the kind of flour you are using based on sight alone, there will be that morning when you haven’t quite woken up and you mistake the potato starch for the tapioca. You can use masking tape and a Sharpie or print up cute labels on your printer if you want a more polished look. Ultimately the labels will help you put the same flours in the same spot every time, making it easy to keep your pantry organized. Nothing saves more time and inspires the admiration of your friends than a neatly organized and labeled kitchen.
Get rid of the rack.
Spice racks are overrated. After I saw how spices were stored in gigantic, tightly woven baskets in India, I realized the land of spices was onto something that I should try, too. If you are like me and live in less than 1,000 square feet but have lots of spices, pick up some stiff, cloth-lined rectangular baskets and load them up with all your spice bags and jars. Then put the baskets where the spice rack used to be.
Use magnetic, wall-mounted knife holders. This frees up a huge amount of counter space and keeps your knives sharper for nearly twice as long between professional sharpening. I mounted mine in my pantry so I had more free counter space for a few personal trinkets and art pieces, making my kitchen homier even though it’s where I work.
Karen Morgan is the author of the cookbook Blackbird Bakery, Gluten-Free, and she is currently working on her second book, due out this fall. Her website, blackbird-bakery.com, offers gluten-free recipes and tips and features her Blackbird Bakery line of baking mixes. Karen works in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her son, Leo.