This Is Not Your Grandmother’s Pantry

October 13, 2011
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Culinary pros turn ordinary home pantries in to “Wow Pantries”

By Karen J. Irvine

The pantry I am most familiar with was in my grandmother’s New England farmhouse. It was eerie, dark and cold, with rough board shelves filled with glass Mason jars. It smelled of ripe bananas, pickling spice and lemons. Still, it had its saving graces with a perpetual stack of freshly made lemon drop cookies for my siblings and me.

So when I first laid eyes on the pantry that Sickles Market had decorated and stocked at this year’s VNA Stately Home By the Sea Designer Show House, Holly Hill, I did what most visitors did: I let out an involuntary “Wow!” Although the function remained the same – to store dry goods and preserves – aesthetically, this pantry was in total contrast to my grandmother’s or any other I’d seen. Its finished shelves were stocked with the finest of specialty food products, and it was meant to be a showcase, not a hidden afterthought. Sure there were Mason jars, but these were used as globes on a beautiful, creative chandelier.

The “wow pantry” at the VNA Stately Homes by the Sea Designer Showhouse../ Courtesy Sickles Market

Bob Sickles, third-generation owner of the market, knew it was a hit after seeing the reaction of visitors like me. So he and his culinary professionals have taken the concept a step further, offering customers a personalized “Wow Pantry” of their own. This custom service takes into consideration the lifestyle, cooking preferences and skill level, kitchen space and budget of each individual homeowner or family.

The purpose of a “Wow Pantry” is to provide the homeowner with a selection of products, from quality culinary basics to superlative epicurean specialties in an effort to transform their entertaining and family meals into an extraordinary experience.

Similar to a personal shopper, a Sickles culinary professional personally assists clients in selecting the products for their own custom pantry, based on the size of the pantry and the customer’s preferences.

And speaking of size, this is case where it truly doesn’t matter. Anything from a large cupboard to a walk-in closet will work as a pantry, even a drawer filled with exotic spices. And if a new pantry is part of the plan, many are affordable and easy to install, according to Guy T. Hembling, owner of Charles B. Hembling & Son, a home building firm for 93 years.

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Also, the pantry does not require certain items like windows, since a pantry should be relatively dark to protect the quality of preserves and dried goods. Heating vents are not required either, since the room should be somewhat cool and remain at an even temperature. Without some of these costly construction items, you can invest in the heart of your pantry – specialty foods such as dried goods, canned goods, preserves, condiments, beverages and cookware.

“We realized that our role as curator of fine foods could serve homeowners’ needs in creating, designing and stocking pantries that suit their dietary concerns, cooking preferences, lifestyles and physical space,” said Cheri Scolari, Sickles Market’s pantry professional.

Scolari suggests that customers bring in measurements or a drawing of some kind. Then the Sickles culinary professional will sit down with them and discuss the pantry and come up with a plan. There is an initial fee of $65 for an hour consultation in your home in Eastern Monmouth County, which will be applied to the purchase of a pantry for $475 or more when ordered.

Different lifestyles are taken into account as well and Sickles also has a collection of pre-selected pantry packages for ski cabins, beach cabanas, new cooks, first apartment, dorm room, etc.

“The Wow Pantry is a great opportunity to educate our customers about our products,” said Scolari. There are plans to hold classes at Sickles, showing customers how the pantry items can add depth, richness and flavor to a meal. Weekly demos at the market are already in place and are another way to learn about specialty food products and how to use them.

“It can be as simple as drizzling truffle honey on Italian sheep’s milk cheese or adding preserved lemons and wild mountain capers to a couscous,” said Scolari.  “There are Sickles how-to videos on YouTube and there are more in the works, “ she added.

Below are serving suggestions composed from specialty food products from your pantry, refrigerator or freezer. These dishes require no cooking and are perfect for last minute gatherings, said Scolari.

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Assorted Hors D’Oeuvre Cups

Arrange  filo cups or Siljan cups on a platter and fill with assorted fillings:

D’Artagnon Medallion of Duck Foie Gras with Truffle with a dab of Villa Capelli Red Tropea Onion Conserve

Catsmo Corp Old Fashioned Smoked Salmon with Cowgirl Creamery Organic Crème Fraiche and fresh dill

Fresh Ricotta with assorted toppings from Les Moulins Mahjoub:  Artichoke Spread, Harissa, Black Olive Spread.

Fromage D’Affinois and a dot of Casa Forcello Strawberry Balsamic Compote

You can also use Maclean’s Canape Oatcakes and fill with Stilton, drizzle with a little Struan Heather Honey and top with a Carmelized Spanish Walnut

Charcuterie & Cheese

Lay out your favorite assortment of cheeses and meats but to add the Wow factor, instead of the usual accompaniments, try some of these:

Tillen Farms Pickled Crispy Carrots and Pickled Crispy Beans

Delici Caperberries

Villa Capelli Spicy Cracked Almonds

Casa Forcello Crab Apple Mostarda

Fine Cheese Company Flavoured Crackers for Cheese

Strawberry Balsamic Jam

Panevino Fiscalini Cheddar Bread Sticks

Dessert Platter

Assorted  Goodies Covered in Dark Chocolate:  Almonds, Cashews, Grahams, Pretzels

Mitica’s Dark Chocolate Covered Orange Slices from Seville

Tate’s Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Lark Salted Rosemary Shortbread

Caffe Dolcetti Chocolate & Chilli Biscuits For Coffee

Charcuterie Platter

Add some Fermin Iberico Ham, the finest ham from the Black-footed pigs of Spain,or Creminelli Salame Tartufo, a hand-crafted  truffle -infused specialty from Utah to your charcuterie plate  and Alexian’s award winning  Duck Liver Mousse Cognac or Pheasant Rosemary  Pate.  Instead of the usual olives and cornichons:

Caperberries  (not Delici – they are Haddon House but I wouldn’t mention that)

Sun-dried Peppers

Tillen Farms Pickled Crispy Carrot and Beans

Villa Capelli Spicy Cracked Almonds

Panevino Fiscalini  Cheddar Bread Sticks

Dessert Platter

Put out a variety of decadent little desserts:

Mitica Dark Chocolate Covered Orange Slices

Poco Dolce Espresso Toffee Double Shots Covered in Bittersweet Chocolate

Maura and Nuccia White Chocolate Biscotti

Fran’s Gray Salt Caramels

Lark Salted Rosemary Shortbread



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