Living Without Refrigeration | Just Plain Living

Living Without Refrigeration

Living without a fridge - save money, improve your health, enjoy food more and lower electric bill!

I'm so glad you're here! I can't wait to tell you more about our life without a fridge.

This post may contain affiliate links.

Yes, you heard that right. No fridge.

Living without refrigeration - or drastically reducing the cost of keeping your food - is certainly possible. Find out the four main ways we keep food all year without a fridge or freezer.

With a family of six - four young children and two adults - we have lived for over a year without a fridge, and we eat well. You might even say I've written the book on living without a fridge. (Seriously. It's called A Cabin Full of Food!) Oh, and we don't have a freezer, either.

Beef stew. Chicken and dumplings. Spaghetti and meatballs. Shepherd's Pie. Biscuits and sausage gravy. Fresh garden salad. Homemade bread. French toast. We do eat well, and abundantly, all year.

And, while you may not be inclined to do the same, I can show you how, using the techniques that let us live without a fridge, you can enjoy your food more and save yourself money, too.

It is possible for a family to live without a fridge. It simply requires some slight changes in how we think about food

Before we moved off-grid, I spent a lot of time wondering how we'd keep our food.

I knew we'd have limited electricity (we have a small solar array) and that fridges are insane energy hogs. But, even though I had learned to live with a small fridge, I still couldn't get past the idea that we need some type of refrigeration.

And in turns out that the answer was right there in front of me.

It was in the stories my grandparents told me.

It was in the vintage cookbooks that I have always loved.

It was in the rhythm of the earth around me.

I am here to show you how we do it, and what we eat, and how you can modify these time-honoured techniques to improve your life. I know you can do this, because I've done it. 

And NONE of it requires:
  • acreage in the woods
  • an icehouse or spring house (although, you know, that would be cool!)
  • a home in the Arctic
  • specialized knowledge or skills
  • tons of money

Intrigued?

I'm so glad you're here! I can't wait to tell you more about our life without a fridge.
So now you know that we don't have a fridgefreezer or any small appliances and yet we still eat quite well and in abundance. Do you know the other thing we don't have?

Huge power bills.

It seems strange to think about it, but the only thing in my kitchen that uses any type of power is my propane stove. And no, I don't live in a particularly cold place. Nova Scotia is quite temperate all year, warmed by the Gulf Stream. In other words, it's never very hot here, but it's also never very cold, either.

When we first moved to the homestead, the plan was to manage without refrigeration

That might seem strange to many, but our goal always was to see how simply we could live, how much we could diminish our footprint on this planet. 

Considering that we came here with three little children, and a final one was born here in the cabin, I know many people wouldn't even try. Children are enough work when you have all the amenities.

We were determined, though. No fridge. Before moving here, I had worked hard at minimizing the amount I used our fridge, getting to the point where it was practically empty most of the time.

But there was a little propane fridge here and we started thinking about how convenient it would be, so when that little fridge proved to be a dud, we bought a new one. $800 Canadian for a propane fridge delivered to our cabin up here in the woods.

It’s not big, though. 

At 3.3 cubic feet, it’s smaller than the little freezer on most fridges. But at least it could hold milk, a bit of fresh meat and leftovers.

And, really, that's about all I was using it for, anyway. Even at 3.3 cubic feet, it was often half empty, and the little freezer in it (YES, it had a freezer) was almost always empty. What a waste of propane!




Problem was, though, it’s a “camping refrigerator” and not intended for long term use (or indoor use, but that’s another matter). And two years in, it stopped working. 

This time we’re not replacing it.

There are a few reasons for that, but the deciding factors are our location and the price of a proper fridge. Although propane is definitely available, the trucks do not like coming up our dirt road, and frequently they simply can’t. Our propane company actually gave us a second tank, no charge, so that they could come out and fill them once a year. That tells you how bad our road is for much of the year.

Yes, we use about 600 litres of propane, total, all year. I suppose that's another post.

So anything we do to limit our propane use is good. Plus, well, a propane fridge would cost several thousand dollars and take up precious room in our small place.

I really do have better things to spend $3000 on.


We do have an old propane stove which we will eventually replace with a modern propane stove for summer cooking.

Or not.

As I’m acquiring other tools, like my Silverfire survival stove and the solar cooker, I’m wondering if we’ll need a propane stove even in the summer.  Now that we have a big wood cookstove, I don't use the propane stove much in the winter.

So what’s the secret? How are we doing it? As I said, we don't live in the middle of the Arctic, and everything we do can be done in town. (In fact, we were doing most of these while living in the city.) 

The bonus for you? 

Every change you make will save you money in power bills!




I'm so pleased you're still with me.

You're either dying of curiosity about this strange family living without a fridge (it's really not THAT strange, just for North Americans!) OR you're looking for ways to decrease your power bill with my methods. (Or both?) Either way, you're in the right place.

Seasonal Eating

The first step to going fridge-less, no matter where you live, is going to be seasonal, local eating. The more seasonal and the more local, the better.

You have probably heard about seasonal eating, right?

Of course, this would be easiest if we lived in a place where food grew year round, but we can still do it in chilly, four-season Nova Scotia. Decades ago, my grandfather described the weather here as "Ten months of winter and two weeks of bad sledding." Climate change means our winters are shorter than that, but our growing season is still short and our winters long and dark.


Each season has foods that are traditionally enjoyed in your area. For example, if you butcher your hogs in early December, a slow-smoked and cured ham will be ready just about in time for Easter.

Makes sense, right?

There is no need to refrigerate strawberries if you know that they will be picked and eaten in the same day.

And they should be - strawberries are a short-season fruit that doesn't keep well unless frozen, dehydrated or turned into juice, jam or jelly. They really are not improved by storage in a refrigerator, and most of us realize that off-season strawberries are ... kind of awful. (I mean, they look like strawberries, but ...)

In the spring, there is a natural surplus of eggs, which is handy because so many other foods are petering out or completely gone. The last of the potatoes have sprouted and are crying to be planted, so spring is the time to enjoy ricebarley and pasta.

In the summer heat, fresh greens and vegetables abound, making it easier to eat without using meat.

Fall arrives and excess animals are slaughtered, providing the protein necessary to get through the cold winter months. Hearty root vegetables store well in the winter and we see roast dinners, stews and filling soup.

Of course this varies according to location, but every area has its natural rhythm of seasonal foods. In season, food is almost always better tasting, healthier and less expensive.

The trick is recognizing that there are foods for each season and not wishing away the delicious stews of winter because you want summer time strawberries.

Learning to eat seasonally is a GREAT start, but it's not enough. After all, do I really only want blueberries in August and corn in September? There are time-honouredlow energy ways to keep each season's food much longer.

Keep reading to find out how I fill my pantry year round.

Food Preservation

After you have worked seasonal foods into your diet and have stopped wondering why raspberries are so expensive in February (because they are completely out of season and have been shipped by air or stored for months!), it is now time to look at some traditional, non-electric ways to preserve the bounty. Oh, it won't be just like fresh but sometimes it'll be better!

Dehydration

Fermentation

Curing

Cold smoking

Vinegar pickling

Lacto-fermentation pickling

Canning

We use all of these, depending on the food, but mostly canning.

I currently have a Presto pressure canner, and I’m planning to get an All-American pressure canner (or two).

What you get is going to depend on your budget and how much maintenance you want to do. The Presto is much less expensive and lighter but requires rubber gaskets that can wear out (in my case, exactly when I need my canner!). The All-American is far more expensive but is essentially maintenance-free for a lifetime or two.

I put up pretty much everything that I am able to – meat, broth, vegetables, fruit, milk and ghee (the last two aren’t USDA approved) and soup.


In the past, I have made my own unsmoked baconback bacon and salt pork and a smokehouse on the property is pretty high on my wish list - after we finish the barn and chicken coop. I do have a tabletop smoker that I am going to try out this summer.

With a proper smoker, it is possible to do more long-term meat storage by cold smoking the meat the way our ancestors did.

This is not the same as modern smoking, which is entirely for taste.

Did you ever wonder why we need to keep bacon and ham cold even though they are traditional foods that our ancestors relied upon? The difference is cold smoking instead of modern hot smoking. Cold smoked meat is much stronger in taste but will keep for months without refrigeration.

root cellar is also a great way to store without a refrigerator or freezer, but we don’t have one of those yet.

In the winter, freezing outdoors can be a good short-term method, but it is not always reliable.

For short term storage, many people will put things like milk in canning jars and submerge it in a rain barrel or a stream outside.

And I will admit that we'll sometimes pick up a bag of ice at the general store and stick some food in the cooler.

Nothing fancy - I use a plain Coleman cooler like this one. Mine is actually brown, though - when did you last see a brown cooler? It's the same one my parents used when I was a child - these last forever.

Usually I do this when I have a large amount of meat that I need to pressure can over a few days.

One thing to keep in mind with canning and pickling is the size of the jars. It does us no good to have perishable jam, for example, in pint or quart jars when we can't use them up. Half-pint jars, which can be used up at one meal, are a wiser choice unless you know that you will always use up the quart.
If you like this, you're going to love my cookbook A Cabin Full of Food.

Containing nearly a thousand recipes and tips, interwoven with personal stories, nothing requires a freezer, fridge (although a cool or cold place, depending on the season, is useful!), microwave or food processor. Simpleclassicno frills - food that your grandmother would have recognized. Check out the Amazon reviews from people who have bought and are using this massive, value-packed cookbook! (Your library might even have it - quite a few do!)

Not everything needs to be preserved, though!

Some are naturally good keepers, and you may be surprised at what does not need to be preserved or kept cold! I can almost guarantee that you have some things in your fridge that really don't need to be there.
In a hurry? Want a one page quick overview of the methods we use? Get it by clicking here.

Keep reading for ideas on foods that you really should NOT be putting in the fridge anyway!

How do we live without a fridge?

It is possible, and you can use my methods to reduce your power bill. Now that you've adjusted to seasonal eating and learned how to implement different types of traditional food preservation, is there anything left? Oh, you bet there is!

This post contains affiliate links.

Use Foods That Don’t Spoil Quickly

Now, that doesn't mean using food that doesn't spoil. My grandfather always said
Eat food that spoils, but eat it before it does.
He was a pretty wise man, especially when you realize that he never attended a single day of school, was raised up on a mountain that makes my isolated cabin look positively metropolitan and spoke only Scots Gaelic until his mid twenties. Grandma said he barely spoke English when he was twenty-four and married her.

Anyway, not everything goes bad immediately. In fact, some of the foods that are healthiest and best for you will keep surprisingly well without any special storage.

Homemade bread generally does not go moldy the way storebought bread does. Instead, it dries out and is then useful for making all sorts of delicious foods like French Toast.

Tomatoes (like strawberries) should be eaten quickly and not stuck in a fridge. Tomatoes are sensitive to the cold and exposing them to fridge temperatures will change their texture and flavour.

Raw milk sours but does not spoil, making it great for biscuits, pancakes and much more.

Kefir does a great job of keeping it even longer. Strain it, use the kefir and add more milk.

Unwashed farm fresh eggs, while they do eventually spoil, will last for a surprisingly long time on the counter and even longer in a cool pantry. (To be honest, I have been able to keep commercial eggs for a long time on the counter)

Do you know the best thing for absorbing odors in your fridge, though? Coffee grounds. With that said, you might not want to actually make coffee with it. Keep coffee well sealed and in the pantry.

Fresh herbs absorb flavours, too, which is why homesteaders use them in chicken coops!

We keep butter on the counter and always seem to use it up long before it spoils. The remainder is in a cooler outside during the fall, winter and spring, and we use very little butter in the hottest part of the summer.

And if you use olive oil, please keep it out of the fridge. It needs a cool, not cold, and dark place.

Keep your honey out of the fridge! When it gets cold, it crystallizes more quickly. Honey is pretty amazing, especially raw honey. Did you know that it makes a wonderful dressing for wounds?

Mustard keeps, while mayonnaise doesn't. Ketchup and relish, if packaged in small jars, can keep for a short time. Hot saucesoy sauceWorcestershire sauceextracts - there are many sauces that keep for years in the pantry.

Garlic and onions are also cold-sensitive but in a different way than tomatoes. If they're chilled, they think winter has arrived and will begin to sprout and rot. Keep garlic and onions cool (not cold) and dry!

Apples are a hearty fruit that keeps well in a cool place.

It takes only a short time going through the pantry to realize that there are many foods which keep just fine without a fridge. Even hard cheese keeps for a while on the counter in all but the hottest weather. Wax cheese for longer storage.

Want a one page quick overview of the methods we use? Get it by clicking here.

Well, that's all fine and good but what about the things that MUST be kept cool? Soured raw milk is great, but it's not so nice in your coffee. And what about leftovers? The answer is that there are some really great, and really low tech (or perhaps we'll call it appropriate technology) answers!

n the last year, I've found myself drawn to the fridges in other people's homes. Do you know what I've found? We generally stick things in the fridge and forget about them. How many half-used jars are in there, just sitting in chilly limbo until you look at the expiration date and toss it?

Low Tech Tools

Ever hear the little boy’s advice on how to keep milk from spoiling?

He said to keep it in the cow. Great advice, isn't it?

Well, we’re just building our goat herd, but that's what we do when we have a goat in milk.

If all we need to deal with is a liter or two of fresh milk, then it is easy to drink or use that in a day. Even at the height of summer, here in Nova Scotia, fresh milk takes longer than a day to sour. And if it sours, it is still usable.

That's actually one of the nicest things about using fresh milk - it sours instead of spoiling, and there are so very many delicious things that can be made with sour milk.

By the end of this summer, we hope to have cold frames built, which will allow us to extend the season both fall and spring.

Again, it is a low tech tool. Unlike a heated greenhouse, cold frames will let us keep mature kalespinachcarrots and other hardy vegetables for much longer, and then allow earlier starting of seeds. So this is an instance of a low tech tool meshing with seasonal eating.

A cooler with ice can be a good, but short-term solution.

Years ago, people would build icehouses and store it in blocks, but I am not sure that our winter weather is reliably cold for long enough anymore. For now, when I really need to keep something, like meat, cold, I'll pick up some ice on the way home.

Still, there are old-school, low tech ways to keep food cold:

- Spring house
- Ice house
- Cold cellar
- Chest immersed in running water

We're still working at expanding our ways to eat seasonally and well, but I think we're doing pretty well!

The fact is, there are a LOT of different ways to preserve and keep food without constantly using expensive electricity. What ways do you think you could incorporate in order to lower your cost for food storage?

And hey, if you haven't already got YOUR copy of A Cabin Full of Food (and you've got this far in my massive, info-packed intro to living without a fridge), what are you waiting for?

This book is being used in South Africa, in France, in Canada's Far North, in England and all over Canada and the United States, any place where people are trying to improve their lives and, as an awesome side benefit, lower their power bills.

Get your copy of A Cabin Full of Food today.

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Just Plain Living: Living Without Refrigeration
Living Without Refrigeration
Living without a fridge - save money, improve your health, enjoy food more and lower electric bill!
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