We take advantage of the cold weather in the winter. We freeze bottles of ice to bring inside to use in a cooler. We had some big winter ice storms last winter. We collected a lot of that ice and kept it in coolers outside. It stayed frozen for a long time, even after the ice had melted on the ground. This coming winter, we plan to build an ice house. We will freeze bins of ice to stack floor to ceiling in an insulated building. Set into the side of this building will be an old refrigerator with a few holes punched in the back. Cold air from the ice house will go into the back of the fridge. We will put our food in the fridge part, but never open the door to the building until it is time to fill it again in the winter. There are those who have done this and the ice lasts most of the year. The Amish are well known for their ice houses.
- During the summer, we keep food cold in our 19th century well. We put our food in mason jars that can seal tight to keep the water out. Here is another use for these invaluable jars! They go into fish baskets that are lowered down into the water. I generally use this for butter and cheese that will not spoil at 55 to 60 degrees. I have been doing this now for a few months and I have not yet seen any sign of spoilage even after something has been down the well for a couple weeks. A root cellar is also a good option, but it is not possible on our property because of our high water table. It would just fill with water.
- We cook only what we can eat. If we have leftovers, they get eaten the following day. Americans will generally only eat foods that we believe are appropriate for certain meals. Many cultures around the world don’t tend to have certain foods for certain meals. They eat their leftovers for breakfast. The food has probably been covered, but not refrigerated.
- We get ice from town twice a week. This is when I’ll open a jar of something that I plan to use for a couple days. I also have the opportunity to store leftovers. When the ice starts turning to water, it’s time to finish up what is in the cooler.
We eat seasonally. We don’t buy a lot of fresh produce, especially if it needs refrigeration. What we do buy gets eaten in the couple days after our shopping trip (while there is still ice left). We eat the fresh produce that we grow in the spring and summer. This year, our greenhouse is done, so we will be able to extend our growing season through the fall and early winter. The winter foods we eat are what we canned during the summer, as well as root vegetables and winter squash that have a long storage life.
- We don’t buy meat. My husband hunts for deer during deer season. We plan to can a lot of that meat this year. When he butchers it, we have a feast that night which usually includes the tenderloin and/or the backstraps, being the most tender parts of the meat. We have also butchered our own lambs. We will be canning some of this meat too. We have our own chickens and they will soon be big enough to butcher. We will eat one at a time until they get too old and tough. At that point, we will can any that we butcher. Canned meat is the way to go when meat is too tough from an older animal. It makes the meat very tender!
- I have a new understanding of the time it takes for something to spoil, as well as things that don’t need to be refrigerated at all! Jam can be left on the counter and be fine for a couple days because of its high sugar content. Butter is fine at room temperature for a couple days, even in the summer. But at our house, a stick of butter doesn’t last long! Eggs do not have to be refrigerated. Even when they have previously been refrigerated at the store. We always keep them on the counter.
- We don’t buy milk. I never understood the race to the stores to buy bread and milk before a storm. The bread is fine (but we make that ourselves), but if you lose your power, the milk will spoil. We have friends who have a dairy cow. They give us milk from time to time. If we don’t have ice, we drink it right away. Or I make homemade pudding! When I need milk to cook or bake with, I use powdered or evaporated milk. One day we will have our own cow on our homestead.
We don’t use a lot of condiments, except ones that can be kept at room temperature like soy sauce and hot sauce. I make my own vinaigrette salad dressing, which doesn’t have to be refrigerated.
- When we have no other option, we have friends who live about half an hour away. They have generously allowed us space to store a freezer at their home. We keep food in there from time to time. Right now we have part of a lamb we butchered recently and some frozen green beans that we picked last week. Our pressure canner arrived a few days ago and we had to pick the beans before it got here. We couldn’t wait to can them. The beans on the bush right now will be canned.
Refrigeration is one of the things that I miss most now that we live off grid. But I believe that I have learned how to function very well without it! It’s possible with a little knowledge and a self-sustaining lifestyle.