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I’m so glad you’re here! I can’t wait to tell you more about our time living without a fridge.
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Yes, you heard that right. No fridge.
With a family of six – four young children and two adults – we spent nearly three years without a fridge, and we ate well throughout that time. You might even say I’ve written the book on cooking simple, home-cooked food with or without a fridge.
Seriously. It’s called A Cabin Full of Food and it has a five star rating, with over 100 reviews!
Oh, and no 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 ate well, and abundantly, all year.
And, while you may not be inclined to do the same (because a fridge can be a very convenient thing if used properly), I can show you how, using the techniques that let us live without a fridge for several years, you can enjoy your food more and save yourself money, too.
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 had a small solar array at the cabin) 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, which made living without a fridge possible for our ancestors, to improve your life. I know you can do this, because I’ve done it.
And although these things would all help and make it all easier, 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
Keep reading to find out why we chose to live without a fridge.
Why Choose to Live Without a Fridge?
Do you know the other thing that was missing from our cabin in the woods?
Huge power bills.
It seems strange to think about it, but the only thing in the kitchen that used 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 our retreat, the plan was to manage without refrigeration.
The idea of living without a fridge 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, to see what was possible, what was impossible and what was … well, technically possible but realistically too difficult.
Considering that we came to the cabin with three little children, and a final one was born right there, 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 then, it stopped working.
And we didn’t replace it.
There are a few reasons for that, but the deciding factors were 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 used about 600 litres of propane, total, all year.
So anything we did to limit our propane use was 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.
So what’s the secret? How did we 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!
At this point, you’re either dying of curiosity about this strange family that spent so much time 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 these methods. (Or both?)
Either way, you’re in the right place.
The first step on your journey toward living without a fridge or to just dropping the size of fridge that you need, 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.” (That leaves six weeks for summer!) Climate change means our winters are shorter than that, but our growing season is still short and our winters long and dark.
Don’t forget to read Local, Seasonal AND Healthy – Is It Possible?
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 rice, barley 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-honoured, low energy ways to keep each season’s food much longer.
Keep reading to find out the 3 main ways I filled my pantry year round while living without a fridge.