Last week, I emptied out a storage unit that had hung like an albatross around my neck for several years. I opened up boxes and was surprised to see contents I had long forgotten about. Old things became new again, like presents, as one after the other jumped out of those dormant boxes.
One large box in particular was quite heavy and with all my might, I hoisted it onto a table and opened it. The box contained swing-top-bale jars in a variety of sizes that were filled with food from my previous pantry (a swing-top-bale jar is a jar with a metal clasp and a rubber gasket typically used for canning and they are great for storing dry ingredients too). I opened a few jars expecting dull and stale aromas but was pleasantly greeted with all sorts of concentrated scents. The food was the same as I had left it. The colors were vibrant and none of the food looked unappetizing. Porcini mushroom powder, dark cocoa, smoked paprika, peppermint tea, and black pepper all had strong fragrances and the food still seemed fresh. How would that food taste after all those years?
That night, I took a few jars home to find out if their strong scents indicated fresh flavors. The litmus test would be a jar of black pepper that was at least five or six years old, maybe more. I had ordered it from a store in New York City named Kalustyans, after reading an article in Cook’s Illustrated magazine that said their house blend pepper was the best in the world. I filled my pepper grinder with that old pepper and put some on a fried egg sandwich and much to my surprise, the pepper burst with multiple layers of flavor. I also made a hot cocoa with the dark chocolate powder and it was delicious as if I had bought the chocolate yesterday.
When I opened the jars, I heard a popping sound because the jar was sealed airtight. That explained why the food had lasted so long; food deteriorates quickly when exposed to air. Bale jars are somewhat spendy as far as jars go, but are one-time investments that can last a lifetime. Maybe consider buying a few at a time. The French made La Parfait, Italian Fido, and English Kilner jars the best. They are well designed and easy to open and close. The rubber seals are replaceable; you will know you need new ones when the rubber starts to crack. The seals come in a pack of ten and are inexpensive. You won’t have to ever replace or recycle the jars. Even if they stay in your storage unit for years. Or decades.