All Spiced Up

Years ago, I told you about my spice bowl. You remember, that big glass bowl I stored my collection of spices in for the better part of seven years; the bowl that I was too embarrassed to show to any of my friends, and which filled my kitchen with a thick cloud of nose-tickling spice dust whenever I opened the cupboard it lived in? Yeah, that one. The one that was – despite the inconvenience of never being able to find what I was looking for, and of poorly-closed bags of cinnamon and sesame seeds slowly leaking their contents into the bottom of the bowl, and of frequently opting to buy a new bag of something rather than go through the effort of seeing if I already had it – the best system for storing and organizing spices I could find.

The problem was – and still is, as far as I can tell – that people who design spice racks aren’t actually people who cook. If they were, they would certainly know that a measly sixteen or twenty bottles aren’t going to cut it. I mean, I have single recipes that call for that many spices! My bare-bones minimum, the number I couldn’t even think of living without, is probably somewhere around thirty, and once you start adding the esoteric ones – the berbere, sumac and kalonji seeds, for example – well, you can see the problem. I suppose I could have bought three or four spice racks and stacked them side by side, but not only did I not have the space to do that, I didn’t want to financially support those clueless spice rack designers by buying their products in the first place.

When we moved back to the US, though, I was determined to find a better solution. I was sick and tired of that stupid bowl, but I was afraid that if I didn’t find a dedicated storage device the problem would just migrate to a drawer or shelf somewhere. My first thought was one of those trendy magnetic racks – you know, a set of clear-top magnetized tins that stick to a sheet of metal on your wall, which in theory can expand to accommodate as many tins as you need – but after nearly fainting dead on the floor of a well-known Seattle kitchenware shop when I looked at the price of one, I decided I was going to have to keep looking.

The solution I finally stumbled upon took some lateral thinking, a lot of scouring the internet, and few days of crossing fingers that everything I found would actually fit together, but in the end it is the most utterly perfect spice rack imaginable. And did I mention it only cost a fraction of what a comparable magnetic rack would have? The rack itself is an old printer’s tray from ebay, you know, one of those that used to hold type blocks for the press. The trays come in all shapes and sizes, but the one I was lucky enough to find has fifty-five – count ’em, fifty! five! – uniform rectangular compartments, each of which is just about perfectly proportioned to hold one of these four-ounce square tins. The fit is not exact, of course, and the tins stick out nearly an inch beyond the edge of their compartments, but a little foam tape here and there has filled the major gaps and seems to do a good job of keeping everything snug and tight – snug enough, even, for me to hang the whole thing on the wall, an arm’s length away from the stove, where every night I’m rediscovering the joy of adding pinches and smidgens without needing a half-hour’s advance planning.

In fact, it’s working out so well that I’m tempted to open a spice-rack design business myself and start producing them to order. Hmm, do you think there’d be any takers?

p.s. Surely I’m not the only one to hit my head against the wall for so long about spice storage – what do you guys do?