When we moved to our new-to-us homestead, our fridge came along for the ride but never actually made it into the house. We’d learned to live without it while spending a long summer living in a camper and traveling through several states before settling in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When we transitioned from camper to house, we didn’t see a pressing need to haul the bulky appliance inside, hook it up and start using it. After all, why increase energy costs when we didn’t need to? That’s right—we quit our fridge!
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When we first set up house in our camper, we would purchase ice every few days and put it in a cooler with all of the normal items you’d put into a fridge, including meat, leftovers, fresh fruit, condiments and so on. Sick of shelling out the money for ice, we started to find ways to wean ourselves of the ice and live free of the fridge. Now that we have been living for years without one of the most popular kitchen appliances in our country, it’s time to share my tips for successfully living fridge-free.
1. Find other ways to preserve your foods. Refrigeration isn’t the only method to keep foods from spoiling. You can do what we did when we started out: Use a cooler with ice to store perishables that won’t be consumed immediately. Once we settled into our house, we stored any meat or other normally refrigerated items in the deep freezer. Foods can be wrapped in a towel or stored in a small cooler to keep them from freezing completely as long as they are removed within a day or two. There are also many other ways to preserve foods that go beyond energy-hogging appliances, including drying, fermenting, salting, curing or canning. If you consume dairy or other items that may benefit from a fridge, consider freezing the excess, canning or even using cold water in a nearby creek.
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2. Evaluate which foods really need your fridge. Not everything you find in your fridge really needs to be there. I’ve learned over the past few years that a lot of things we used to keep in the refrigerator can be safely stored in other locations. Fresh eggs can be stored on the counter or kept in a cabinet, and so can things like lard or used cooking oil (kept covered). Most produce doesn’t require refrigeration either, and some actually does better without it. Even a number of condiments can be left out indefinitely.
3. Find alternate storage solutions. Basements or root cellars make excellent alternatives to electricity-hogging refrigerators. I like to store produce in my basement, along with any opened jars of fruit or jelly. In colder months, you can find even more chilly places to store food. Here in the Upper Peninsula, we’re blessed with a few extra months of winter. A porch or windowsill work great to keep foods cold, and sometimes even frozen.
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4. Cook more from scratch. We prepare nearly all of our meals that way, which has really lessened our need for cold food storage space. Even leftovers can be left out without worries when it’s cool, as long as they are kept covered and then reheated properly each time you plan to consume them. Ideally, you want to heat any leftovers once every 12 hours by bringing them to a rolling boil for a few minutes. I usually have to add some liquid when reheating foods.
5. Make smaller meals. I usually only cook enough food for everyone to have a couple of helpings at each meal. Anything left over from that meal either gets snacked on throughout the day or reheated and added to the next meal. If I decide to cook a large batch of food or get ahead on meals, it’s easy to can or freeze servings for future use. Even condiments can be made in smaller batches.
6. Enjoy more space! It’s something that might totally slip your mind, but without a big, bulky fridge in your kitchen, you’ll have more room. Living in a small, old farmhouse that was never meant to have a fridge, I can appreciate the extra room we have without it.
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This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Fall 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.