Just returned from another “dig” at our kitchen archaeology site. As usual, I found an array of ancient artifacts. Many of them were in good shape, thanks to cold conditions in the refrigerator and freezer. I also broke new ground in biology – who knew that grapes could turn into raisins after a few short months in the fruit compartment?
As a trained scientist, my job is to catalog each item but the sheer volume staggered me. In the refrigerator alone, I found four boxes of baking soda. They were apparently purchased during a primitive stage in human development, when people still baked from scratch. Or they may have served as deodorizers. Either way, I removed two quality specimens for museum display.
Next, I stumbled on a virtual sea of salsa. I examined jar after jar and found that salsa doesn’t go bad – it just gets spicier. Sadly, the same cannot be said for jars of spaghetti sauce. I don’t know why people purchased such enormous jars of sauce and used only half. Which led to a second question: how can sauce from a jar be any good in the first place.
Digging further into the refrigerator, revealed the presence of three containers of fancy mustard. This indicated a sophisticated diet. Upon closer examination, I determined these mustards had only been used once for recipes and that the inhabitants were still squeezing yellow mustard.
As for the rest of my refrigerator findings, they were overwhelming: twenty-seven eggs; countless Ranch dressings and enough barbecue sauce to slather a side of beef. I couldn’t wait to publish my findings.
After working in those cold and freezing temperatures, the warmth of the cabinets was a relief. I again found numerous examples of the same specimens. An approaching famine might explain the jars of chili and cans of French-cut green beans but four boxes of taco shells seemed excessive.
It was the food items I didn’t see that also piqued my scientific interest. No macaroni and cheese – was our diet this advanced? No cinnamon covered graham crackers – we didn’t need one of civilization’s great comfort foods? And, sure, there were Cheetos, but who could eat them in their petrified state.
The oldest items I discovered in the kitchen were packets of soy sauce from Lee Choi, the long-defunct Forest Park restaurant. If I can preserve them long enough, they could become priceless, like vases from the Ming Dynasty.
In the spirit of the holiday season, I found many small containers of nutmeg and cinnamon. It appeared that we forgot we had them and bought them year after year for seasonal recipes. If you want the advice of a certified kitchen archeologist: before you bring in another layer of food for the holidays – dig, people, dig.
This column first appeared in November of 2007.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.