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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!
We use all of these, depending on the food, but mostly canning. The one biggest “secret weapon” to living without a fridge is getting to know your pressure canner and the wide range of food that you can put up.
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 bacon, back 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. In a time when living without a fridge was the norm for everyone, meat had to be cold smoked.
A root cellar is also a great way to store without a refrigerator or freezer. If you are thinking about living without a fridge or living with less fridge, and a new home is in your future, look for one with an existing root cellar!
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.
Simple, classic, no 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.
Keep reading for ideas on foods that you really should NOT be putting in the fridge anyway!
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!
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 sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, extracts – 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.
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 to the issue of living without a fridge and dealing with food that must be kept cool.
In 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? Even if you do use a fridge, you might be able to use a smaller one if you use the ideas in this article.
Low Tech Tools for Living Without a Fridge
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?
If you have a dairy animal, or have access to fresh, unpasteurized milk, that’s an option.
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.
Then, there is the very old idea of cold frames which will allow gardeners (urban and rural) to extend the season both fall and spring.
Again, it is a low tech tool. Unlike a heated greenhouse, cold frames allow you to keep mature kale, spinach, carrots 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. And yes, that’s as simple as it sounds – if you know you’re going to need to keep that meat cold while getting it ready for canning, pick up a bag or two of ice on your way home.
Years ago, when living without a fridge was the norm, 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. Some people who are living without a fridge (and we’re certainly not the only ones) keep a small freezer so that they can get have ice packs. It’s an interesting compromise, because certainly freezers use far less electricity than fridges.
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? Even you don’t decide to try living without a fridge, there is a lot you can do!
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!