Two-plus weeks after unplugging the refrigerator, we have learned a few things.
Peas do not keep well past a few days. The peas I mentioned in the last post (shelling peas, fresh in the pod), were sort of, um, forgotten about, and a week later it was a mysterious odor that brought them to our memory. The beets and the kohlrabi, however, kept well for a week in the pantry. I cut them into chunks and roasted them with onions, potatoes, and carrots plus a bit of olive oil, sauteed firm tofu chunks, salt and pepper. Delicious.
The kohlrabi I bought at last week’s farmer’s market and tried to keep longer than a week went bad. Probably keeping it in the dark pantry encouraged the corruption. Next time, a plate on the counter, I think, or a breathable bag in a hanging basket.
Other losses – a ripe cantaloupe went south fast in two (hot, humid summer) days. A box of raspberries purchased Saturday morning at the farmer’s market, left on the counter but probably covered too much by carrot greens (see picture below), were moldy by Sunday morning. Nathan rinsed them, boiled them with sugar and made syrup for our pancakes, so the loss was not great. But next time, raspberries must go to the cooler.
Using a cooler has worked very well. We filled both an ice cream bucket and a gallon jug with water (but left headspace for expansion – important!), then froze them both. We rotate them, one at a time, from chest freezer to cooler – when one has melted in the cooler, it goes to the freezer, and the other one comes out of the freezer and goes to the cooler.
In the cooler we keep maple syrup, almond/soy/rice milk, jam, leftovers, and cut produce. Probably items like berries and peas (produce without stems to draw water – see next paragraph) will need to go in the cooler if not used or preserved immediately.
Vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, herbs – anything with a stem or root that can suck up water – can be kept in a pot of water, just like cut flowers. So far, we have had moderate success with this method. Herbs seem to stay fresher this way than they did when I stored them in the fridge. Lettuce – well, some of the lettuce I bought Saturday morning was wilty by Sunday morning. But we made a big salad with the rest of it and it was great! Carrots seemed to get a bit limp faster than I would have expected – but we cooked the limp ones and cut up the rest and stored in the cooler.
So, a bit of waste during our learning process, but with chickens and a compost pile, no food is really ever wasted.
We are learning to buy and prepare what we can use or preserve within a week or less. Rotating ice in the cooler keeps us aware of its inventory, which helps us to not waste that food.
Grains and legumes have become an even more attractive staple since we’ve ditched the fridge. They store so easily, and with a few herbs and a fresh vegetable or two, make a cheap, nutritious, simple meal.
Leftovers can be kept unchilled in the pot in which they were cooked, with a tight lid, and recooked (to boiling temperature) within 24 hours without any problem. Though in our germ-fearing culture, I promise not to serve leftovers kept like this to guests.
Without a towering space-hogging refrigerator, the kitchen feels lighter and more spacious. Other than what we store in the cooler, the fresh food we have on hand is kept on the counter or in hanging baskets, where we see it throughout the day. We get to enjoy it visually before we enjoy it digestively! And we don’t lose track of what food needs to be used soon.
Oh, and have I mentioned I will never need to clean the refrigerator again?! Woohoo!
So far, we have not missed having a refrigerator, especially since we do still use a cooler and a chest freezer. But if we did ever want one, we’re pretty sure we would get a smaller one (under-the-counter size), or retrofit a chest freezer into a chest refrigerator – which is WAY more efficient than any other refrigerator option. (A chest appliance rather than a stand-up one keeps the cold inside when you open the door, which makes a huge difference in efficiency.) See here for more about that.
Now, what do you think? Have you ever tried living without a fridge? Any tips to add? Any food items you want me to experiment with and report back about? Any other questions, comments, thoughts, other ideas about food storage alternatives?