Last Monday afternoon, I had quite the scare.
My fridge was mostly empty, as I had intended to do a grocery shopping trip on Tuesday; I hadn't gone shopping in two weeks. Before I went shopping, though, I decided it imperative to organize my pantry, as I had absolutely no clue what was flying there, and consequently, kept on buying doubles and triples of certain items but had depleted my stock of other things without replenishing it. That was causing my shopping trips to be more expensive, I decided, because I just kept on building my stockpile without eating from it at all.
I took everything (aside from my home canned foods and bulk foods) out of the pantry, and put it on my dining room table.
Wow. Lots and lots of food!!!! Some of the stuff really old even, from before I started to go healthier with the foods we were eating.
I sorted out the foods to our "We're eating this now" cupboard, and put the rest in the stockpile pantry. In our "We're eating this now" cupboard, I put all the open packages into glass jars as much as possible, to make less of a mess when using, and to keep out bugs.
With the rest of the pantry, I just organized and put like with like.
Organizing my pantry was so important, because it helped me see that we were overflowing with legumes, mostly things I wasn't even touching, and had enough oil to last us pretty much until next year. (Ok, slight exaggeration, but I found 12 bottles of oil there.)
After a successful pantry reorganization, I decided to organize my freezer, because there was no room there anymore, and I had no clue what was flying there, so I kept buying more and more foods, like cheap chicken, because I was sure we had none.
And that's when I realized we had a problem.
Many of the things in the freezer were partially, if not completely melted. (Mostly my frozen veggies and soups- the meats, fortunately, were still frozen solid as a rock.)
Uh oh. The freezer had gone kaput.
The refrigerator as well. Nothing in the fridge was actually cold.
And I couldn't hear the motor at all.
We had had 3 blackouts earlier that day, and I was sure that the electrical surge after our electricity came back on must have killed the motor of the freezer/fridge, despite the surge protector we had. Last refrigerator that we had met its demise that exact way, so I assumed that was exactly the problem.
I brought over all the food from my freezer to a neighbor's freezer so it wouldn't melt and spoil... and then started freaking out!
Full blown panic set in!
We'll need a new refrigerator! We have so many expenses coming up with a new baby on the way; we can't afford to buy a new refrigerator on top of everything else....
And my shopping trip on Tuesday??? What will I do? We are running low on food in the house; I only shop on Tuesdays because every other day of the week food is more expensive as Tuesday is the only day that my local store runs its dirt cheap veggies sale! We can't manage to go another week without grocery shopping! We need food! But we won't be able to buy a new refrigerator by tomorrow, in time to do our bi-weekly grocery shop!
Gradually, I managed to calm myself down.
Relax, Penny. Chill out, I told myself. Refrigerators are a recent invention. People managed for thousands of years without refrigerators or freezers and in many parts of the world, people still live without electricity and our appliances we in the civilized Western world rely on. There must be a way to manage without a refrigerator. We'll make this work somehow.
Of course, there are people that manage even in our circles without refrigerators. They just go shopping daily for the food they need for that day. But I knew that wouldn't be an option for us. On top of the fact that I keep our grocery bill low by shopping only on Tuesdays, I also am aware that the more trips you make to the grocery store, the more chance you have to succumb to impulse buys, and the more money you end up spending, so I try to keep our shopping trips as infrequent as possible.
I decided to research exactly how people managed without refrigeration in the past, learn how to store food long term without refrigerators or freezers, and apply those to our life.
I discovered lots of really cool ideas, lots of interesting things and methods I'd never heard of before, or had only heard about in passing but didn't know any details.
With my husband's blessing, we decided to call a repairman, and if fixing the refrigerator would cost more than 125 dollars, or if it would need to be replaced, we'd push off replacing or fixing the refrigerator until the end of the winter (as its much easier to manage without a refrigerator in cooler weather than in the hot summers we have here) by which point we'd have a chance to save up more money to pay for the repair.
Fortunately, when the repairman came Tuesday morning, the repair was relatively simple and not too expensive, so I was able to get it fixed and go on my usual shopping trip Tuesday evening to replenish our supply of food.
However, the information I gathered, and my ideas of how to live temporarily refrigerator free were just sooo interesting, that I decided I needed to share them with you, just in case someone else ever is in need of such ideas.
Firstly, there are people in the US that go without a refrigerator by choice, and they don't go shopping daily. So it was nice to know that it actually is doable. And their websites, for the most part, showed me exactly what is possible.
Certain things don't need refrigeration. If we'd needed to go fridge free, we would have relied a lot on those non perishable whole food pantry staples.
You'd likely need to cook only as much food as you'd need for that meal, not leaving any leftovers to spoil.
If you do have leftovers, if you bring the food to a rolling boil at least once every 24 hours (or ideally every 12 hours), you can stop spoilage causing bacteria from growing, so long as you put a tight lid on it between meals when its boiling hot and don't remove the lid until you are ready to boil it again. That way, you can then make a large meal (like a stew) and serve it for a few days/meals in a row without risk of spoiling. (Or so they say; don't hold me accountable for the scientific validity of this.)
If it's winter and cool out, you can put your food outside on your window sill overnight, or even during the day if it stays cold enough. (I couldn't do this during the day; it can get between 50 and 70 degrees here during the day here, even now in November, which is to warm to keep food from spoiling, but at night it usually is around 40 degrees.) This way you can make something hot for supper and then have it stay cold enough overnight so you can eat it in the morning without worrying about spoilage.
Most things that people generally keep in the refrigerator actually don't need refrigeration. Most condiments, wines, and oils don't need refrigeration. Butter can last for 2 weeks outside of the fridge. Eggs, so long as they haven't ever been refrigerated, can last outside the refrigerator for a whole month.
Vegetables and fruit generally last a lot longer in the refrigerator, but apples, oranges, grape fruits, lemons, avocados, pears, bananas, cabbage, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, onions, and beets can generally last a decent while without refrigeration so long as they're whole, uncut, and unwashed. These can last between 3 days and a month outside the refrigerator, depending on the item, what the temperature is where you're storing them.
By fermenting produce and making pickles, produce is able to last even longer without refrigeration, especially in months of cooler weather.
If I'd needed to have gone without a refrigerator, I would have purchased small amounts of easily perishable produce like cucumbers, greens, grapes, and berries, with more of an emphasis on the produce that is hardier, like root veggies, winter squashes, cabbage, apples, and citrus fruit. For the first couple of days after a shopping trip I'd make dishes utilizing the more perishable ingredients and focus on using the hardier vegetables as time went on and I'd get closer to my next shopping trip. I'd also do more foraging of wild edibles and greens which I could pick daily so that we'd have some fresh greens even a week or more after our last shopping trip.
I could also dehydrate produce and can produce, but I'll be honest, I'm not in love with how reconstituted dehydrated produce turns out (maybe I need a little more practice with that), and canning is very time consuming, so I'd only want to do it in large batches, and wouldn't want to do it every week or two... So even though these two things are still options, I'd still largely rely on just using the more perishable produce first and lacto-fermenting and foraging instead of dehydrating and canning.
There are a few other methods of storing vegetables so they can be stored long term, but even though they weren't applicable in my situation, I thought them interesting enough to share.
Cold cellars are putting veggies, usually root veggies, in a cold place, typically in an unheated basement, where they can last even longer than they would have outside the cold cellar. The veggies sometimes are packed in sand or sawdust so they think they're "still in the ground" and keep longer than they would "above ground". Alternatively, sometimes they're just kept on shelves in the cold area in the basement. If you don't have a basement but have a yard, you can dig a hole in the ground and store your produce there, keeping the hole covered. The ground is generally much cooler than the air around it, and this keeps your veggies nice and cool and helps preserve them.
If you live near a stream or any other body of water, you can build something in the water in which to store your foods (provided you can ensure they won't float away), as water also can keep your food cool.
All this so far was about produce and keeping produce fresh. How would we manage other things, like starches and proteins?
Dry grains and flours don't need refrigeration; once cooked they'd obviously need to be eaten in a timely fashion, unless they're made into something without residual moisture, like crackers. Bread doesn't need to be refrigerated; it can be kept in a bread box, and even keeps better that way most times.
As for protein, eggs, as mentioned above, don't need refrigeration. We have powdered milk that we bought because it was much more frugal, and the milk drinkers in the house could have relied on that. Milk kefir can also be made; it doesn't need refrigeration. Beans and lentils can be stored long term without refrigeration, as can canned tuna fish, so those would also help with our protein needs. Nuts and seeds also don't need refrigeration and contain protein.
But really the biggest problem without a refrigerator or freezer would be what to do about fish, poultry, and meat... I've heard that you can pickle and ferment fish and meat but I wasn't able to find good instructions about how to do that. You can also make jerky and dry meat, poultry, and fish... but from everything I read, even after being made into jerky these need to be stored in the refrigerator...
All in all, I know that if we had had to manage without a refrigerator we would have managed somehow... But I am absolutely thrilled that our fridge/freezer was really easy and cheap to fix so I didn't have to put these different ideas into practice. They were nice to learn... but for now, I'm happy to leave it in the intellectual sphere and not need to actually do it!
So, what do you think you'd do if your refrigerator/freezer broke and you didn't have so much extra cash to replace the fridge/freezer? Would you ever even consider doing any of the ideas I mentioned and just go without a fridge/freezer temporarily, or no way, no how? Are you absolutely reliant on your refrigerator/freezer, or do you think you'd figure out how to manage without one if push came to shove?
Do you use any of the food preservation methods I mentioned, even if you do currently have a fridge and freezer?
Do you know anyone who voluntarily chooses to go without a fridge and freezer? How do they manage?
Do you think my husband and I are nuts that we were even considering how we'd manage without a freezer/fridge?
Linking up to Simple Lives Thursday, Frugal Friday,