I knew I needed to replace my Old Bay Seasoning, but I had no idea how old my existing box was!
We all recall certain things from our childhood kitchens that were like fixtures – always there in the same form. Usually those things hung around from recipes tried once and bombed. In my parents’ home, this was half a box of kasha and a jar of bouillon cubes that had solidified into a brown and red mass. I must have moved these things a million times between 1967 and 1977, and it never dawned on me to throw them out. I figured they were there for a reason.
My Mom’s kasha was there because she made it once and we hated it. I know why without even asking. She did not follow the instructions on the box (you know, the egg and all that) and simply boiled it like rice.
The bouillon cubes were there because, well, bouillon cubes suck.
The scary thing is that I was still using my historic artifact in shrimp boils. Old Old Bay won’t harm you, but it loses potency and develops off flavors over time, so I really should have retired it.
I did not have my Old Bay for 20 years, though, which is the tale the two boxes seem to tell.
I bought the original box at Key Food in Astoria, Queens, in 2000. I know that exactly, because I wanted to make my mother’s partner, Nick, crab cakes, and had a hell of a time finding it. I needed dry mustard, too, and that was a bitch. Hard to believe, because Astoria was already a major food neighborhood. I made roasted salmon with rosemary as part of the same meal, and could only get fresh rosemary from one of the large greengrocers on 30th Avenue by raiding their restaurant inventory!
Old Bay Seasoning was developed in 1939, which means the “over 50 years” mark would have been used, loosely, between 1989 and 1999. I would like to think that Key Food would not leave a product on its shelves for 11 years. The corner liquor store that also sells cans of chili and tuna, yes. But not a chain supermarket. I hope.
When I came home to Cali after that visit, I left the Old Bay in Queens, figuring my Mom would produce some crab cakes for Nick. The report back from Nick was that some lame-ass crab cakes showed up once, and that was it. The same problem as with the kasha: not following instructions and cutting corners. So, when I was there in 2001, I brought the Old Bay back home to California.
I now have the old box in the garage as a memento of that joyful holiday in Astoria with Nick, who passed away in 2002, along with that ancient jar of bouillon cubes I found in my father’s kitchen after he passed away in 2006.