Smokey the Magnificent

Failing the Turing Test since 1986

Icing Sugar

I just ran out of icing sugar. A pesky, but not in itself noteworthy phenomenon. But it got me thinking: why do I always run out of icing sugar? I mean, specifically? If I reach for the high-grade flour, in general, there it will be. Same with baking soda. Cinnamon? Sure. Cream of tartar? Lurking at the back behind the maraschino cherries, but there. Lentils? I never run out of lentils. Possibly because we only eat them twice a year.

But there are a few ingredients which exist in a state of perpetual emptiness, and icing sugar is one of them. I can’t remember the last time I opened the pantry and found a plump, full bag of the stuff looking at me. There’s always a measly cupful in the bottom, taunting me lumpily.

Golden syrup’s the same. One can never scoop a luscious tablespoonful out of a brimming tin; one is always scraping around the bottom. How? Why? Where does it go? I can understand chocolate disappearing – Helpdesk Man’s existence answers that – but to my knowledge, nobody tipples golden syrup on the sly. Nor is it prone to evaporation; especially in a tin which requires the use of a spoon to pry up the welded-on lid at the best of times. (Don’t get me started on the flaws of golden syrup tin design, my goodness.) The pigs couldn’t get into it even if they thought to. Mice neither. It’d probably baffle a moderately intelligent Martian.

And it’s not just sweet things, either. The same thing happens with sesame seeds; though that’s less disastrous, as I generally only need a few tablespoons at a time. Also brown rice. I buy brown rice regularly, and in theory it should last forever because Helpdesk Man has an abominable, privileged distaste for brown rice. But it doesn’t. Could he be pouring it down the sink in the dead of night? Possibly; but he likes sesame seeds, and (as much as one can gauge something this personal in a mere eight years of marriage) has no particular animosity to icing sugar. There’s no pattern here. There’s no motive.

However, I am a blithe and Pollyannaish soul; so rather than angst over the insoluble mystery of it all, I have decided instead to view it as a probably universal and timeless phenomenon. There was probably a housewife in Crete two thousand years ago who kept running out of olive oil; or an Egyptian housewife whose fig-jar was perpetually barren save for a few oldish withered ones clinging to the side. And thus I am part of a great, cosmic sisterhood of domestic incompetence, and that is a comforting thought. Though it doesn’t tell me¬†how I’m going to ice the rest of these blasted biscuits.


  1. Trish

    Erm, some people like to eat Golden Syrup by the spoonful. That would be me. So I don’t have any, so I can’t do that, since I would be round if I did. Icing sugar is just like that. Icing sugar is a priori never full, except in the supermarket. I like how you managed to just slip in that you regularly have maraschino cherries in the cupboard. All natural like. Well, I have olives in the fridge for once. Proper ones with pits in. So there.

  2. smokering

    Well, they’re not fancy maraschino cherries. They’re the day-glo kind you put in Christmas cakes, which is about the only reason I ever buy them.

  3. Trish

    You do know those are total poison, right? They and red velvet cake are two foodstuffs that genuinely worry me. More than snails, even.

  4. smokering

    Yeah, I know, they’re ‘orrible. But they lend a necessary festive colour scheme to fruitcake.

    Interesting fact, glace cherries originated during Prohibition. Real maraschino cherries are pickled in grog, which the guy who invented the glace-ing process used as a smear campaign along the lines of “Those foreign Devil Cherries are unchristian and un-American!” until people started preferring the rubbish kind as a sort of Freedom Fry, organic-free-range-microfinanced-locally-sourced type political statement.

    You know what’s worse than red velvet cake? BLUE velvet cake. It’s on Pinterest.

  5. Trish

    Oddly, blue I can handle. I’m irrational, I know, but I would gobble down any number of those Cookie Monster muffins that seem to be all the rage without batting an eyelid. I’d probably eat a red Elmo too. Inconsistent. And possibly far too ready to devour Sesame Street characters. Although I couldn’t eat a Big Bird though. That would just be wrong.

  6. Robyn

    I suspect the icing sugar thing is because one always ends up using much vaster quantities than one had hoped (often due to the whole cycle of adding a bit more water, oops too much, a bit more icing sugar, oops too much etc.) so before you know it you’ve only made 2 batches of icing and it’s suddenly all gone. Also, I don’t know whether this is perception or reality, but it seems to me like the volume of icing sugar is much greater in its original form than as icing. As for the other cases of disappearing ingredients, I am unable to offer an explanation.

  7. smokering

    There is great truth and wisdom in what you say. And yes, a huge fluffy pile of icing sugar only makes a tiny, insignificant puddle of icing. But then, especially when icing cookies, I’ve found that tiny puddle often goes a lot further than you’d think, so it sort of balances out, though not in a helpful, user-friendly way.