I was making curry and without thinking, went to the cupboard under the stairs, found and switched on the torch and thought for the millionth time, “we must get a light in here”.  

I rooted around in a shirt box full of jars and packets until I’d found the spices I wanted.

As a keen cook, why do I keep my herbs and spices in such a difficult location? The answer's simple: we decorated the kitchen probably five years ago, moved all the spices out (using the shirt box as a tray), and they’ve remained there ever since.

However, as we’re in the middle of spring, I decided it might be a good idea to have a thorough review of my overflowing Aladdin’s cave.

Spicy souvenirs immediately transported me back to past holidays: a tin of Hungarian paprika from Budapest, Kashmiri saffron, Jamaican jerk spice and harissa from Tunisia.

I was reminded of our hunt for achiote paste, to recreate Mexican pork pibil. A Google search revealed a couple of London suppliers so my long-suffering partner was dispatched to China Town where Loon Fung persuaded him that his annatto pwder had been extracted from achiote seeds. 

But was it really the same? I eventually found small plastic bags of achiote at The Spice Shop in Portobello Road whilst visiting Books for Cooks. The label described the contents as: annatto seeds, orange, cumin, oregano, cloves and garlic - Loon Fung was sort of right.

A bag of somaq had a best before date of April 30 2013.  I remember finding a recipe that used it but reading it was hard to find. I’d obviously found a packet, presumably in 2012, and bought it. Unfortunately by then, I’d lost the recipe.
Best before dates had long expired. At some point I’d decided that commonly used spices would be cheaper bought from Asian supermarkets in large packets rather than from Sainsbury’s in small glass jars. Unfortunately the ground white pepper expired before Christmas and a huge 200g bag of Jeera Ground Curry Powder will never be finished before June 16. My oldest spice was an opened silver foil packet of Malay curry powder, with its BB of November 2010.

I turned my attention to the admittedly fewer jars of herbs and realised why they’re now hardly ever used. Living so close to the fabulous array of ethnic shops in Walthamstow’s High Street, I find there is simply no comparison between dried dill from a Shwartz jar (even if it is within it’s sell by) and a large bunch of the fresh stuff at less than £1.

So what are the secrets of your spice rack and where do you keep them?  Do let me know by e-mailing: foodintheforest@btinternet.com.