We get our word “pantry” from the Middle French word “paneterie,” meaning a place where bread was stored. The term evolved to describe a small room, closet, or cabinet where non-perishable food items and beverages (and sometimes cleaning supplies, extra dishes and glassware, and other things) were stored.
Today, though, “pantry” has acquired a metaphorical sense, too, describing not necessarily a place where things are kept but the accumulation of things cooks find essential to the way they like to eat, regardless of where they’re stored — a cupboard, a shelf, a kitchen counter. (Strictly speaking, pantry basics are items that don’t need to be refrigerated, at least when you first bring them home, though some should be kept in the fridge after they’re opened.)
The idea of a pantry isn’t to provide full meals (though the imaginative cook can often put together an impromptu dinner from its contents), but to supplement fresh foods brought home from the market. Starches, condiments, and seasonings are among the items a pantry should have, and if properly stored, they’ll last a long time. (These are 20 foods you should buy during a quarantine because of their long shelf lives.)
24/7 Tempo has put together a list of essentials that every pantry should probably include. “Probably,” because everyone’s tastes are different, of course. If you’re a vegetarian, you won’t need chicken or beef stock or anchovy paste. If you’re gluten-intolerant, forget the flour and the bread crumbs. If you prepare a lot of Asian dishes, you’ll likely want to add such ingredients as sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and mirin. If Mexican food’s your thing, you’ll probably want an array of dried chiles, achiote (annatto) seeds, and masa harina. (Products like these get lots of use at the best Mexican restaurants in every state.)
These, though, are 35 pantry staples that almost everyone will use at one time or another.