Now is the perfect time to freshen your spice rack

It started with Herbes de Provence, or my lack thereof.

Herbes de Provence is a mixture of dried herbs and considered typical of the Provence region of southeast France, generally consisting of savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Sometimes, it has lavender in it. It adds a distinct, yet gently robust flavor to dishes. Is “gently robust” a flavor descriptor? That’s the only way I can think to describe it.

I was making one of my husband’s favorite meals when I discovered the empty bottle. I was neck-deep in pots and pans and the intense preparation of French deliciousness. Chicken, mushrooms, onions and a cream sauce were about to be snuggled in a flaky puff pastry when I reached for the Herbes de Provence. And my bottle was empty.

I keep my empty bottles as a reminder of what herbs and spices I need to pick up, and I hadn’t checked the herbs and spices cabinet in a while. I don’t just have a spice rack, I have a spice rack and an entire cabinet because I cook a lot and use lots of different spices.

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Always ready to improvise out here in far West Texas where the grocery stores seem to close at sundown and it was already later than I normally have dinner on the table, I dug through all my disorganized herbs and spices and made do with what we had.

I had marjoram, thyme and an empty bottle of savory. Luckily, we have rosemary in our landscape so I cut some fresh. I sniffed the plastic baggie of oregano that had at one time smelled so strongly, I was constantly hungry for Italian food… and it smelled like nothing. Like dried, green nothingness. I didn’t even bother with the oregano.

The next day, I searched Fort Davis high and low for Herbes de Provence and came up empty-handed. The closest I found it was in Alpine, and for more money than I felt like spending on a little bottle of dried plant pieces that I won’t use too often since my favorite thing to use it on is fresh fish… and we don’t have much fresh fish out here.

My daughter was coming to town from Boerne and asked what she could bring from HEB. Knowing very well the enormous selection of bulk herbs and spices she had access to for pennies on the dollar, I wasted no time sending her a list because I’d just cleaned out the Johns’ Spice World and had a whole bunch of emptiness to refill.

My original plan was to shop locally, but I saw the chance to expose my grown daughter to the loveliness of buying bulk herbs and spices, rather than just going to the spice aisle for an expensive bottle of whatever she needed.

Herbs and spices aren’t meant to last forever in your pantry or cabinet. Even if they are in airtight jars rather than the little baggies from buying in bulk, they lose their potency, aroma and flavor as time passes. If you bring them home from the store in a baggie, please immediately put them in an airtight container.

I’ve been using fresh ginger in my cooking for quite a while now, so should I be surprised that the baggie of ground ginger from 2015 smelled like powdered nothingness? The new baggie of powdered ginger smelled like a hunk of fresh ginger, and was immediately transferred to an empty spice jar.

Generally, whole spices will stay fresh for about four years, ground spices for about two to three years, and dried herbs for one to three years. Do the sniff test before you use them – if they don’t have a scent, they’re probably not going to season your food how you intended. Or at all.

Now is the perfect time to clean out your herbs and spices and start fresh for the new year. You can find pretty much any herb or spice you can think of at grocery stores in Alpine, and Blue Water Foods has an excellent selection of bulk spices available.

And, when you have a nice selection of herbs and spices and you need an herb blend that’s not available or is pretty pricy, you can toss together your own in whatever quantity you want.

I made a double batch of this Rotisserie Chicken blend with my newly-stocked supply of herbs and spices. I omitted the tarragon and rosemary. It was, in the words of my darling, “The best chicken you’ve ever made.” BAM.

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I just thought this pan of marinade for fajitas was so pretty before I mixed it up. Again, I had everything I needed on hand – except for pineapple juice – but I went all-citrus since that’s what I had and used freshly squeezed grapefruit, orange and lime. Again, SO GOOD.

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Herbes de Provence Recipe

3 tablespoons dried thyme

2 tablespoons dried savory

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

1 tablespoon dried marjoram

2 tablespoons dried parsley

1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers (optional)

Put all ingredients in an airtight container such as a mason jar, and give it a good shake. Use on anything you think could benefit from a blast of French delightfulness… chicken, beef, fish, pork, potatoes, soups… get creative, it’s up to you!

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche

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12 thoughts on “Now is the perfect time to freshen your spice rack

  1. I’m so jealous of your spice rack, I need to keep my spices in jars with lids that close tight. Those shaker ones they come in don’t keep very well. Thanks for posting, by the way I live in El Paso, not too far from Fort Davis, lol. I love the drive 😎

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    1. I bought that rack on Amazon a few years ago… I think it was about $20! Those are my “most used” spices, the spice cabinet has … wait for it … 51 more bottles of herbs and spices 😳 We love El Paso! That’s our “big city”!!! I’m long overdue a Costco trip to stock up on supplies for out here in the mountain desert. I ran out of avocado oil last night, so Costco better be happening soon… and Sprouts (I love the new one) and L&J Cafe or KiKi’s 😊👌🏻👍🏻

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      1. You have 51 more bottles!?!? WTH! Lol
        Ok I’m a spice rack amateur, but I need to find one like that one you have. I’m going to look on Amazon. Wow, I’ve never heard El Paso described as a “big city” lol. I was so happy when Sprouts opened here, I can spend hours in there. I like L&J more than I do Kiki’s, but that’s just me. Is El Paso closer than San Antonio for you?

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      2. I think I’m obsessive compulsive about spices 🙂 When you can buy just a little from the bulk section for your refillable spice rack, and spend so little money on fresh spices, it creates a monster. LOL

        EP is totally a big city!!! It’s 3 hours for us, one way. We gain an hour on the way with the time zone change, and lose it on the way back. We’ve only done day-trips. San Antonio is almost 6 hours for us – we moved here from Boerne (used to be 17 miles north of SA but now SA is gobbling it up) and my daughter still lives there, so we go there, too. My husband grew up there, so we know SA well. Midland/Odessa are also three hours for us, but the only good thing there is THREE HEBs. The drive is too dangerous.

        The first time we went to Costco in EP, I asked another shopper where the closest HEB was and she said, “What’s that?” I almost cried, and then found Sprouts (we had one in SA). The last time we were at Sprouts, they had really great bacon on sale for $2/pound, so we stocked up – the cheapest I can get good bacon out here is about $10/pound if it’s on sale.

        We tend to go to L&J more than KiKi’s. I also really like Los Bandito’s de Carlos and Mickey’s (I had to google it, couldn’t remember the name). Dang, now I’m really needing an EP trip!!!

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      3. Oh yasss, Carlos & Mickey and their monster margaritas! And yes, HEB isn’t well known here but then neither was Sprouts until they opened here a couple of years ago. Now we have a Whole Foods in addition to Sprouts. Here in El
        Paso you can find an array of dried herbs and spices especially those Mexican herbs/spices, you can easily substitute in some dishes. My mom has a huge herb garden and the one thing that never fails to thrive is spearmint, its all over the place. When did bacon get so expensive right? I have only bought bacon to make Brussels Sprouts because I mean, bacon makes everything taste better. Lol

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      1. You should’ve kept it so that the next time your son tells you that you’re wasteful, you can tell him that you’re not. Broccoli from six years ago, didn’t want to waste it. LOL

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  2. We even MOVED TWICE since then and I didn’t toss out those spices 😂 When my mom was still alive, I’d “grocery shop” in her kitchen and freezer. Just to give y’all an idea, the woman had 27 cans of green beans in her pantry, and 12 cans of ((gag)) pumpkin. She shopped a lot and stored things. One day, she said, “Oh! You should make crab Alfredo! Here…” and gave me a package of pasta, a jar of Alfredo sauce, and a frozen slab of imitation crab that was “Best by” SEVEN YEARS EARLIER. It was probably okay, but I said, “Thanks but no thanks, Mom. Throw that away.” She never got sick from her old frozen foods. 😂

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  3. People do overestimate how long their spices stay fresh, especially ground spices. I usually buy my spices in bulk at the co-op so I can control how much I purchase, and so I can take the sniff test right there, something you can’t do with a pre-packed jar!

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