I finished packing the kitchen, and in doing so found a couple more things not unlike the Liquid Smoke (which, excuse me, was $1.19, not 89 cents), and the Molly McButter (which I actually have two of, as it turns out—“What? You were afraid the one would be lonely?” my husband asked. Also interesting to note—in a dull sort of way—is that one bottle claims that it has 4 calories per serving, and one claims it has 5). I found a bag of fenugreek seeds that I think we’ve owned for about nine years, and two small tubs of colored sugar that appear to have been purchased during the Carter administration (red and green, if you’re wondering).
I thought about why I didn’t just throw this stuff out. The Liquid Smoke and the Molly McButter are clearly candidates for the garbage, and the fenugreek is probably totally flavorless by now. I guess I don’t throw them out because they don’t really go bad, per se. They’re not like milk or meat, which actually spoil. They’re not even like canned goods, which have an expiration date on them. They don’t instruct you—either through printed dates or just by stinking—that they’ve outlived their usefulness. And by the time I realize it should probably go out, I've kind of gotten used to seeing it in my cabinet and can't bear to part with it. I believe I have mentioned before that I am very weird.
When I do find something with an expiration on it, even if it’s something that clearly doesn’t deteriorate over time, I will toss it. Jello pudding, canned pumpkin, baked beans—if the date has passed, I get rid of it. And really, how could Jello deteriorate? I’ve read before that often the dates on things like canned goods are “best before” dates, and you can use them after that date with no risk to your health, but their quality won’t be what it was prior to that date.
But I know I’m not alone in this apparent unwillingness to toss things that are useless and/or past their prime. Not everyone may have the colored sugar from 1977, but I’d bet everyone has a jar or two of spices that they bought for one recipe, never found another use for, and just haven’t gotten around to tossing. In fact, I often read letters to the editor in cooking magazines that complain about recipes that use an unusual spice—people complain that they’ll spend the money on a whole jar of something they’ll never use again.
But I have a plan for all these culinary artifacts that I’m clearly so reluctant to get rid of. As a decorative element in the kitchen of our new house, which will be ready sometime the end of this year, I’m going to make a shadowbox and feature a couple of these gems. After so many years I just can’t bring myself to throw out that Liquid Smoke. I’ve clearly got a mental block against using it (and not just because the idea of Liquid Smoke is completely revolting), but the trash isn’t an option either. They’ll be forever immortalized as decorative elements. If nothing else, they’ll be a conversation piece. So that, as someone else once said, people can come into my kitchen and say “Why do you have a bottle of Liquid Smoke and a shaker of Molly McButter in a box on the wall?” and I can reply “So I can have this conversation over and over.” At least it keeps me from having to throw the stuff away.