Incredible Once-Edibles: What’s In Your Icebox?
When I clean the refrigerator, I always find two things in the butter/cheese drawer - one is a tiny container of Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread. This particular sample expired July 5, 1996. It’s accompanied by a packet of Savora mustard from Argentina, vintage 2000.
I acquired them on trips to Germany and Argentina. They remind me of packing a picnic lunch for a boat trip on the Rhine and taking a side trip to Montevideo. And as crazy as it may sound, I can't part with either. The mini samples have survived numberless purges of the refrigerator, even relocation to a new fridge. When it came time to move to our new home, sure enough, the Nutella and its sidekick, Savora, got packed in the cooler along with the refrigerator items and driven over to our new address.
Joining them in 2010 was a mini bottle of Mead from Dublin. The label says 15% alcohol. Put that in your glass and drink it. Only I haven't. It’s still lying in wait for a special occasion that will never come.
Freezers contain more “keepsakes” because they’re cleaned less often. My son’s deer ham stayed in our deep freeze for the better part of five years before I ran out of space and decided that well-aged venison wasn't going to make it to the dinner table after all. It got the heave ho with freezer-burnt green beans and crystallized strawberries.
Maybe you have keepsakes in your icebox - a special bottle of wine you won't open, a jar of hot sauce with a funny label.
I get my keeper genes honestly. For twelve years, my mother kept a slice of our birthday cakes. The collection began in 1950 with my brother’s first birthday, and worked its way through 1958 when my parents sold the deep freeze. The cake samples were moved to the attic where they re-froze, thawed and re-baked with the changing seasons. I remember the cake samples lined up inside plastic containers, neatly labeled by date and name. One had blue icing and silver dragées so often used on cakes and cookies in the 1950s. When we moved from that house, the collection was thrown away.
I kept this family secret until I discovered that my mother-in-law owned a piece of old wedding cake - very old indeed. It has rested, wrapped in parchment paper, inside a ceramic ginger jar since the 1860s. Nobody’s sure. She bought it at an estate sale and learned that what looked like white pumice was actually a Victorian pastry. Amazingly this this tiny square of cake has survived bugs, moves, fires, and cleanings and everything else that could happen in a century and a half.
And then there’s the egg. My aunt saved the first hen’s egg laid on the farm after she married my uncle. He wrote the date on the shell, Oct. 6, 1938. It didn't burst or break. Eventually the browned, shrunken egg made the move into town in 1966. It now rests in her kitchen cabinet, a prime example of an incredible once-edible.
In recent years I've learned of other kitchen keepsakes. A friend has a box of old canned goods she can’t part with. Another acquired a tin of pineapple bits that somehow dried itself and rattled when shaken.
Many of the keepers are special-occasion food: cakes, wines, candies - a first egg. We want to hold on to that moment. The food item somehow defies physics and ages gracefully, undisturbed and revered.
Admit it. This old food isn't going anywhere.