Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Self-Sufficient Projects.
Can you imagine living without a fridge?
Humans have lived like that for millennials. The difference is that they had a few tricks up their sleeves that helped them survive.
Even today, people still live without refrigeration – some because of unfortunate circumstances, and others want to lower energy costs or cut dependence on the grid.
Whatever the reason, here’s how you can live without refrigeration.
A first step on the journey to living without refrigeration is eating local, seasonal food.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying it from the market or growing it yourself. The more local and seasonal, the better.
• During spring, there’s usually a surplus of eggs, which is great because many foods will be gone or petering out. This is also a great time to enjoy maize, barley, rice, and other spring crops.
• During summer, vegetables and fresh greens abound, allowing you to eat an almost meat-free diet.
There are also many wild edibles to pick and choose from in summer.
You can find and identify them effortlessly and safely in most forests.
• During fall, excess animals are slaughtered, which provides the protein you and your family need to get through the cold winter months.
• Winter is the best season for storing any food as you can harness the cold temperatures to keep your food fresh.
Of course, this varies from location to location, but each area has a different natural rhythm of seasonal foods.
After adopting a seasonal diet, you need to learn the traditional tricks your forefathers used to preserve their bounty.
• Drying is a preservation method that uses the wind and sun to reduce water activity in your food.
• Freezing without a fridge involves freezing water in the cold snow and placing it in a cooler along with your foodstuffs.
• Smoking flavors, cooks, and preserves food by exposing it to smoke from burning wood.
• Salting/Curing removes moisture from foods like meat.
• Pickling involves preserving food in brine or marinating it in vinegar.
• Sugar in syrup or crystallized form can preserve fruits.
• Bottling and canning involve sealing cooked food in sterilized cans and bottles.
• Lye prevents bacterial growth by turning food alkaline.
• Jellying is a preservation method whereby you cook food in a substance that solidifies to form a gel.
• Potting involves placing meat in a pot and sealing it with fat.
• Jugging involves preserving meat by stewing it in wine, brine, or animal blood.
• Burial in the ground involves burying your food underground where there is no oxygen or light.
Build A Root Cellar
A root cellar is any storage that uses humidifying, insulating, and natural cooling properties of the earth.
It is your best option for storing root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips. You can also use it to store rhizomes or bulbs of perennial flowers and pickled or canned vegetables.
A secondary use for a root cellar is storing beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages.
There are a few types of root cellars you can build:
• Basement Root Cellar: This type of root cellar is attached to the house for easy access.
• Hole-in-the-Ground Cellar: This option requires you to dig horizontally into a hillside or down in the ground.
• Garbage Can: This root cellar is probably the easiest to make as all you need to construct it is to dig a hole and place a metal barrel or garbage can inside. You then add some straw at the bottom of the can, then your food stuffs.
Don’t Over Cook
Another great solution to living without a fridge is not having leftovers.
If you can start scaling back on your food portions, then you won’t have to worry about leftovers and the need to refrigerate anything.
Use Food That Doesn’t Spoil Quickly
Not every food goes bad quickly. In fact, most of the healthiest foods will keep surprisingly well without special storage.
• Homemade bread doesn’t go moldy like store-bought bread. Instead, it dries out, and you can use it for making all sorts of tasty foods like French toast.
• Raw milk sours but doesn’t spoil, which is terrific for making pancakes, biscuits, and more.
• Unwashed farm fresh eggs last surprisingly long in a cool, dry pantry.
To be frank, I have been able to store commercial eggs for a relatively long time in the pantry too.
• Butter can last for a long time on the counter. But during summer, we rarely buy it, as it can’t cope with high temperatures.
• Raw honey can last for decades, if not longer! Did you know that it’s also great for dressing wounds?
• Mustard lasts longer than mayonnaise.
Food Types And Their Refrigeration Needs
Vegetables can last up to 3 months without refrigeration, but make sure you buy ones that have never been refrigerated.
Additionally, ensure you choose produce that’s not overripe, bruised, rotten, or looks old, and don’t wash the produce before storing it.
Here’s the length of time to store your vegetables:
Onions, Potatoes, and Sweet Potatoes
Pumpkins and Butternuts
Winter Squash, Garlic, and Cabbage
Tomatoes, Beets, Turnips, Kale, and Radishes
Green Peppers, Zucchini, and Carrots
Broccoli, Asparagus, Cauliflower, and Eggplant
Less than 1 week
Bear in mind that herbs, broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, or any vegetable with a stem will store superbly well if you submerge its ends in water.
Refrigeration cuts the shelf-life of fruits by 50%. However, getting unrefrigerated fruits from the local store is difficult. You’ll have to buy it directly from farmers or farmers’ markets.
Most fruits don’t need refrigeration, but some have a shorter shelf-life than others. Here’s the average shelf-life of fruits without refrigeration:
Melons and Papaya
Pears, Avocado, and Mango
Citrus Fruit , Oranges, Apples, and Peaches
Blueberries, Grapes, and Other Fruits
Dairy products have different shelf lives:
• Butter: Has a shelf-life of at least 2 weeks and as many as 4 weeks if it’s in a cool, dry place. However, you can make clarified butter yourself. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and can be stored for up to one whole year and even beyond.
• Yogurt: Small-size yogurts can last for a few weeks, provided they’re unopened. If you bought the larger size, eat it within two days.
• Cheese: Hard cheese, vacuum-sealed or coated in wax can last for years without refrigeration.
• Milk: You cannot get milk to last more than 6 hours without refrigeration. The best solution is to get yourself a milking goat or cow, buy fresh milk daily, or use powdered milk.
Fresh meat is difficult but not impossible to store without refrigeration, here are your best options:
• If you buy vacuum-sealed and frozen meat from the butcher, store it in a cooler or freezer bag for up to a week.
• You can also preserve the meat by curing and smoking it.
Unwashed eggs can last for a month at room temperature. If you want your eggs to last even longer, you can waterglass them. Eggs that are preserved with the water glassing method can last up to a year or more.
If you can keep egg-laying chickens – the better!
Grains & Starches
Uncooked grains and starches don’t require refrigeration.
Most condiments will keep just fine for months without refrigeration. That includes catsup, mayonnaise, peanut butter, mustard, and relish.
Other spreads like maple syrup, jams, molasses, and jellies will keep for 1-3 months. Honey can last for decades without going bad. If it crystallizes, gently reheat it.
Living without refrigeration can be frustrating at times, but it sure is a worthwhile undertaking you should try.