The world’s oldest Christmas pudding was found unopened in a cupboard after 111 years the other day.
I had to double check the finder’s address (Poole, Dorset), as I had a sinking feeling that there but for the grace of the occasional clear-out go I.
The Morleys have run Duncheckin’-on-Sea, a rest home at Norbreck for retired sell-by dates, for years.
This Bermuda triangle of Best Before was born of the enduring wartime rationing ethos of my mother, and my own old CND nuclear fallout bunker mentality.
Like those Bags for Life that enjoy the life of Riley being chauffeured from supermarket car park to home without ever venturing forth (because I forget them) the Morley pantry has become NeverNever land for little beans that will never grow up and feel the warm embrace of a hot pan. And you could be waiting for the cows to come home before some cans of oxtail soup – collectors items from original Campbells days – get an airing and stirring.
Cans move into our cupboards for years on end, to be dusted off and shuffled around, as tokenistic attempts to rotate them in due date order turn into a primeval soup version of the Antiques Roadshow.
There’s the occasional casualty when attempts to defuse a blown can fail, the resultant blast from the explosion peppering kitchen walls, and chef, with tinned tomatoes.
As years take their toll, checking out the contents becomes hit or miss, like defrosting stuff from the back of the freezer, the labels having disintegrated, to find you’re mixing what may have been fish fingers (circa little brother, now university professor) with pureed apples from an apple tree which succumbed to codling moth years ago. Very little gets thrown out – and even less since the old best before dates were removed for non-perishables last year, after celebrity chef Antony Worral Thompson told ITV: “You will often find me down the supermarket snapping up the half-price deals on out of date food.” (Remind me to never go to a cheese and wine party at his place.)
I have to be fairly furtive when sneaking out-dated food past the ever-vigilant budget conscious biddy patrol. The knack rests in placing it under empty wine bottles in the recycling bin. Otherwise it may be fished out via one of those long-handled grabbing devices some pensioners use.
“You threw out a tin of corned beef with a best before date of June 1999 the other day. So I got it out and made corned beef hash with it. Last night’s. You haven’t been sick, have you?”
Of course, cans of corned beef carry best before dates that could see some of us out. It’s depressing buying a can with a shelf-life longer than your own – especially if it could prove your last meal. If you make a hash of it...