What’s on Your Refrigerator Door?

Where old condiments go to expire

You know how that cleaning thing goes.

You notice a wee bit of honeydew juice on the refrigerator shelf as you take out the last piece of honeydew melon, so you go and get the sponge, and the next thing you know the refrigerator is empty and the shelves are scrubbed down and the bins on the drying rack and a bucket of really gross lukewarm water full of all the crap you’ve wiped out of the fridge — dead grapes, sprigs of celery leaves, crumpled twisty-ties, meat juice (ewww! Meat juice!), indefinable brown goo (maybe more meat juice?), takeout packets of Chinese mustard, raspberry jam (with seeds), and maybe some baked beans? And on the counter beside the fridge is an entire army of condiments you’ve taken off the door.

I remember, in 2004, helping my dad move out of the house I grew up in and into an assisted-care facility. At that point, my mom had been dead for almost a quarter-century, but so help me God, there was stuff on Dad’s refrigerator door that had been there that long. The bottle of Tabasco alone predated the Vietnam War. There were salad dressings that had expired decades before, and a jar of capers bought, no doubt, soon after Mom and Dad were married in 1949, for some exotic recipe Mom had clipped out of Better Homes & Gardens, like veal piccata or anchovy spread.

There’s a jar of capers on my refrigerator door, too, along with three different jars of olives (I hate olives), three jars of pickles, one jar of pickle relish, six different salad dressings (Russian, Italian, Caesar, balsamic vinaigrette, blue cheese and ranch), the aforementioned raspberry jam plus apricot jam (I only use those to make Christmas cookies once a year), three kinds of mustard, ketchup, mayo, lemon juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, Worcestershire sauce, four kinds of hot sauce (one of my daughter’s old boyfriends was Mexican and stocked us up), butter, Neufchâtel cheese, two rolls of 35mm film that are now in their third different refrigerator (I keep meaning to have those developed), and a bunch of Greek yogurts perched perilously atop everything else so they fall out every time I open the door.

Why’d I buy those capers, anyway, and what am I going to do with the rest of them? Are my relatives going to be grossed out if they read this and realize they’ve been being gifted with cookies filled with years-old jam? Why do we run out of ketchup and relish all the time, but never, ever run out of pickles? Whatever happened to that boyfriend of Marcy’s? Who in this house ever ate ranch dressing? WHO BOUGHT THOSE THREE FREAKING JARS OF OLIVES, ’CAUSE IT WASN’T ME!? What in the world could be on those rolls of film? And why, why, why do I never throw anything edible away?

Because Mom used to tell us just what the nuns at her Catholic school told her: that children in India were starving. Anybody out there have a great recipe that uses capers, hot sauce and apricot jam?

SANDY HINGSTON is a senior editor at Philadelphia magazine.