Picture in your mind the following scenario. You awaken in the morning and start your day as usual. When you go in to the kitchen to start breakfast preparations, you make the discovery that your refrigerator stopped working during the night. Your financially not in a position to be able replace have the refrigerator repaired. What do you do? Depending on the time of year, you have several options.
The fast solution could be grabbing up a cooler and placing ice or dry ice into it along with your perishables. But what if you were forced to go without a refrigerator for a period of time. How would you manage? Let’s face it. In modern society, people have become spoiled with the modern conveniences. So much so that when a storm takes our their electrical power, they have no clue how to manage without it. One such case is refrigeration. How often do you hear people talk about food loss after a storm knocked the electricity out for a few days? Each winter season, I can only shake my head at the way people complain of food loss after a winter storm. Yet, if they would have put the food into plastic totes and placed the totes in a safe outdoor location, they would not have lost their food supplies. Because of this, I decided to write a post about how to thrive without refrigeration. The ideas shared here are ones that we have used to reduce our need of a refrigerator and freezer. I hope that as you read through these ideas, you will find some that would benefit you should the power go out. Some of these ideas take advance preparation and some can be done without advance preps. Whichever the case may be, you will have some ideas to consider in how to thrive without refrigeration.
One option is a Zeer Pot. This clever design is an evaporative cooler which works as a non-electric refrigerator. In rural Africa and the Middle East, this is one way that people have to keep produce fresh. Easy to make, these pots are 2 large terra cotta pots sized so that one fits into the other with a 2” space between the walls of the pots. You place sand in the bottom of the larger pot and center the second pot inside. Again, you will want about 2” gap between the two pots. Fill in that gap with wet sand. For best results, keep the Zeer Pot in a location where it will always have shade. The wet sand and terra cotta pot helps to keep the inside of the smaller pot cool. The Zeer pot is covered with a wet piece of fabric to use as a lid. You keep the sand wet and dampen the cloth as needed. The only drawback to the Zeer pot is that it does not work well in a humid climate. So, being as our state can get humid, I will be trying the Zeer pot on a small scale next summer before making a large one.
The cooler of ice is always an option, but I can tell you from experience that it can also be a pain in the keester. We went that route for a long period of time but it truly was a pain and very inconvenient. If we lived in an area which still sold blocks of ice, it may have been better. The cubed ice sold at stores or the self-service dispenser machines simply tend to melt too quickly. If using the cooler as your refrigeration method, I strongly recommend that you get a Yeti brand as they are one of the most efficient on the market.
Our lifestyle and diet is one that really fits in well with the minimal refrigeration. Actually, refrigeration was once considered to be a luxury to earlier generations. Like many such conveniences, as they became more common in society, they began to be seen as critical needs. People depended on them. If you use alternative means to preserve your food, you could easily live without any form of refrigeration. We don’t go completely without refrigeration, but we have significantly reduced our need for it. Here is how I manage to do this.
First, I home can everything possible. If I buy meat, I get large packages of it to process in canning jars and store in the pantry. In the jars is enough meat for one meal. This eliminates the problem of leftovers that would need refrigeration.
I cook proper amounts for the number of people eating the meal. I try to have as few leftovers as possible. If the meal is something that can be processed in canning jars for a later meal, then I may make extra. Usually though, I try to just limit the quantity to what we actually need.
I don’t use eggs in my recipes. I bought a quart of ground flax seed meal and keep it for my egg substitute. For each egg in a recipe, you mix together 1 Tbsp of ground flax seed meal and 3 Tbsp of water. Let it set for a couple of minutes to allow the flax meal to absorb the liquid and become thick. Just as eggs work as a binder in recipes, this flax seed meal mixture will do the same while adding additional nutrients that eggs lack.
I never buy milk that requires refrigeration. Instead, I do one of two things, We either use the cartons of almond milk that can be stored on a pantry shelf, or we mix up powdered milk as we need it. The almond milk comes in 1 quart containers. Once I open a carton, I pour any leftover milk into a glass jar and place into the cooler. We generally will use it all up within 24 hours.
We buy lunch meat only when we will be using it immediately. It is a rare thing for us to buy lunch meat, but when we do, we only get enough to last two days. This is also stored in a cooler, just as you would if your were going camping.
Sometimes, we want the fresh eggs to cook up for breakfast. In those situations, the eggs can be safely stored in the cooler. We never have a carton of eggs for very long, which is why it is safe to store them this way.
If you have a Zeer Pot, you can place all your produce into it for storage. The pot is cool enough to prevent the produce from spoiling too quickly. One idea that I am considering is to set up a Zeer pot to use in place of a root cellar for over winter storage. In this case, no water would be needed to cool the pot. It is cold enough here in winter that the insulation of the sand between the pot may be enough to help prevent freezing of the vegetables and fruit. Instead of using a cloth to cover the produce in cold months, I would use a piece of cut plywood or possibly invert a clay saucer (like those you use under a flower pot) to be used as a lid. This heavier material would also help to prevent frost damage to your stored produce. Of course, if using these as a root cellar, I would still only store items like potatoes, winter squash, apples, and other root cellar friendly produce.
In winter months, we use a cold room for our refrigeration. A storage room is left without heat and allowed to become very cold. In the coldest months, it is like walking into an unheated garage. This is perfect for storing perishables! If the temps are cool enough, we have been able to store eggs, cheese, and a small container of milk on a shelf and it will be kept very cold. Sometimes, we have actually had milk freeze in the storage room. If the temp is just a little too warm, then the food can be placed into a cooler with water in it and the lid propped open. The cold temps will chill the water and this becomes your refrigeration. It works very much like an Amish spring house. In the Amish spring house, there was a trough of water that jars of milk, butter, and other perishables were placed into. The water was cold enough, even in summer, to keep the food the proper temperature. I would not use the water method in our area in summer however. The summer temps just get too hot for this to be a safe option. In winter though, it is a very effective option.
If you really want off-grid refrigeration though, you have a couple of easy options. The more expensive is to simply buy a propane refrigerator. These are expensive however. Another option is to buy a small chest type deep freezer. The thermostat control can be changed out with one that will essentially turn the chest freezer into a refrigerator. We have considering trying this with a propane freezer. Only downside is that you are still having to provide a fuel source. Also, if there is a motor or condenser involved, there is always a risk of mechanical failures. On the upside, unlike a refrigerator that losing cold air each time you open the door, a chest freezer conversion would not do so. Still haven’t decided on that yet.
As I mentioned, with the way I preserve foods and am careful with meal preparations, we have been able to have very limited refrigeration needs. I actually enjoy this because it makes the size of refrigerator we would actually require to be the size of a small office/dorm type. Primarily being a source for keeping drinks cold in summer. There again, we have a way to eliminate most refrigeration need. We purchased one of the large water coolers like you see on job sites. We fill it with ice, then add water to completely fill the cooler. This gives us 5 gallons of cold drinking water. If the kids are wanting a powdered fruit drink, I pour the sugarless mix into a container and add sugar according to the directions on the packet. After mixing this well to blend the drink powder with sugar, we use it just like the pre-made drink mixes from the store. Just like with mixing powdered milk as we need it, the kids’ fruit drink mixes are made one glass at a time.
What alternative methods do you have for emergency refrigeration should there be a need? Do you have a backup plan in case your first option doesn’t work out?