Posted by: John Colby | Saturday February 7 2009

Archaeology of the Kitchen Cupboard

A Lesson in Vertical Stratigraphy

In conventional archaeology, if evidence is found then the age increases the deeper in the stratigraphy you excavate. Exactly the same principle applies in geology, and, naturally, in the papers on my desk. The deeper you go the older the deposit.

However in kitchen cupboards the stratigraphic succession is marked by vertical stratification, the older stuff is usually towards the back. Just how old is only revealed when you clean out the cupboard because you’re sure you have some of that vital ingredient somewhere and you need it, and THEN you find it’s out of date. (And then you have to make a quick trip to the overpriced local shop, but that’s another matter). As kitchen cupboards are usually full to overflowing (well, ours are, anyway) you then realise that it’s time you need to make some space.

And then the memories start flowing. Tins of black treacle and now solid packets of dark sugar for puddings of Christmases past; exotic spices from the near and far Orient, but sadly now having lost their pungency; the dregs of custard powder; the dead garlic that you were sure you had but couldn’t find some months ago; honey, the product of labouring bees from summers past, now solid in the bottom of the jar; packets of something or other that might have been a good idea at the time… 

And now they inhabit the depths of the bin bag. It’s a bit sad really and you start making plans about making sure that you utilise the stuff you buy, dont waste it, a repeat of all the good resolutions  you made last time you cleaned out the cupboard.

But in archaeology and geology you can only estimate dates. With the kitchen cupboard the science is a little more accurate as you have the sell by date to go from. And some of them are embarassingly far in the past.

I’ll stop there.



  1. Obviously John, your cupboards have character. The flipside is the arrangement at our house, whenever I just fancy finishing eating that ‘whatever’, I go to the kitchen to find it, only to discover that the stasi kitchen police have interogated the date and executed the offending item.
    Just as well the cats don’t give their food chance to get out of date or my life would be hell!
    Mother Hubbard

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