How to keep Corona stockpiling in check

How to keep Coronavirus stockpiling in check

by Victoria Glass 18 March 2020

With so many of us already in isolation, or, at least, under the cloud of its imminence, we need to find ways to make our food stretch and to keep it interesting. Victoria Glass shares her guide to shopping responsibly, thoughtfully and effectively, before sharing tips and tricks on keeping things exciting in the kitchen when you’re working with a limited larder.

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Victoria is a London-based food writer and recipe developer. She was the Roald Dahl Museum’s first ever Gastronomic Writer in Residence and has written six books, including her latest, Too Good To Waste.

Victoria is a London-based food writer and recipe developer. She was the Roald Dahl Museum’s first ever Gastronomic Writer in Residence and has written six books, including her latest, Too Good To Waste.

A friend texted me to say she had bought the last four multipacks of baked beans, in a craven panic, from her Sainsbury’s Local, but felt so selfish afterwards that she tried to assuage her guilt by donating a tenner to her local foodbank. ‘Do you think that’s enough to offset my corona emissions?’ she asked.

These are unprecedented times and even the ‘proper grownups’ are at odds on how to cope. When everything feels this overwhelming, a five-kilo sack of rice or twenty-five tins of chickpeas can make us feel that we still have some semblance of control; that, despite all of the unknowns, we will still be able to feed our children.

The desperate need to continue steering the ship, despite not quite feeling sure where we’re headed, can feel in conflict with our equally strong sense of compassion and duty to help others who are less privileged. We know we must resist stampeding already depleted supermarkets by buying more than we need, but angry or mocking cries not to be selfish t*@&s! don’t help anyone. It is anxiety that drives stockpiling and being shouted at is not an effective prevention.

Both my husband and I work from home already and, thanks to an inherited fear of empty cupboards from my baby boomer mother (who is constantly freezing and bottling and squirreling things away for a rainy day), I am a natural stockpiler and find it difficult not to treat daily life as a preparation for lockdown. As such, I feel I have a good handle on what store cupboard essentials come in handy the most. I am lucky that I can (mostly) afford to feed my bunker mentality by popping that extra tin of lentils or bag of frozen spinach in my trolley, but there is a difference between taking a little extra, just in case, and taking so much that you leave others with nothing.

We must resist the urge to take more than we need, but our food is going to get boring pretty quickly without a little forethought. It looks like a great deal of us will be eating every meal at home for the foreseeable future, so now’s the time to get your spices and aromatics in order and make sure you are storing food correctly to keep it fresh for as long as possible.

To that end, it’s important to make sure your fridge is set to the optimal temperature of between 1-5°C (keep it lower if it’s full), but not everything belongs in the chiller. Bread will go stale up to six times quicker in the fridge, but a mass-market sliced white is likely to go mouldy before it goes stale, so sticking your loaf in the fridge to keep for toast can give you up to an extra week before any spores sprout. Keeping fruit and veg separate is advisable (the ethylene gas emitted causes speeded up spoilage) and, if possible, give your fresh produce a little room to breathe – they don’t much like being crammed in.

Out of the fridge, keep potatoes, squashes and onions somewhere cool and dark and never store potatoes and onions together; both will sprout quicker if you do. Once sprouted they are still safe to eat as long as they are still firm (just trim off any shoots). Green potatoes have been exposed to too much light, which will make them bitter, so just trim off any green bits before eating.

Aside from rice, pasta, couscous, tins of beans and packets of pulses, to ensure vibrant and varied suppers, salt and pepper and oils are a must, of course, but I always have stock pots or cubes, tinned tomatoes and passata, dried chillies, cumin, ground coriander and turmeric in at the absolute minimum. Ground ginger, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, garam masala, star anise, sesame seeds and mixed spice are fantastic additions for variety.

You can buy big bags of spices cheaply from East End Spices, or you can support a brilliant independent business by ordering from Rooted Spices. On top of these, mirin, soy, miso paste, fish sauce, capers, olives, preserved lemons, paprika, vinegars, tinned anchovies, coconut milk, dried wakame and harissa are all extremely useful and last ages (all available from the ever-wonderful Sous Chef). In my baking cupboard (which, full disclosure, is packed), my most grabbed-for ingredients are oats, plain flour, raising agents, vanilla paste, caster sugar and cocoa or chocolate. Add to these bread flour, yeast, light muscovado sugar (for caramel richness), ground nuts, gram flour (so good for socca bread or pakoras), dried fruits, golden syrup and honey, and you’ll be moments from comfort.

On this note, check out food writer and pastry chef, Olivia Potts, on Instagram @ahalfbakedidea, where she’s helping to make social distancing that bit more bearable (and delicious) with #readysteadyapocalypsecook. Ask her how best to turn all the random odds and ends lurking at the back of your cupboards into a soothing baking challenge.

If you have freezer space available, as well as fruits and veg (frozen spinach is my go-to) a ready supply of chopped garlic, ginger, chillies, lemongrass, and fresh herbs (open freeze them all on a baking tray before decanting into Tupperware boxes or freezer bags) can be a godsend. Add to that a stash of quartered lemons and limes to add zing to your dishes or to drop in a gin and tonic for an ice and slice in one.

If the supermarkets are empty and online shopping has become a crash course in crashing websites, there are other places to try. Over on Twitter, food writer Niamh Shields (@eatlikeagirl) has curated a list of independent food businesses, farms and producers that still have supplies and are currently delivering in the UK and Ireland. Or there are several chefs and restaurants who are in the process of creating delivery/collection services or frozen meals, like Pantry at Coal Yard Kitchen and Pidgin. With the current government advice to avoid restaurants and pubs, many more are following suit. Chances are if you ring or contact your local restaurant, they will be offering some sort of takeaway or delivery service if they haven’t closed completely.

And, finally, if you do find yourself, head hung in shame after a moment of anxious panic-buying, why not donate to Jack Monroe’s fundraising campaign for the Trussell Trust to try to offset some of your corona emissions.