Food Storage Techniques and Goodbye to the Fridge!

The comedian Michael McIntyre does a great sketch about people preparing to go on their hols. He points out that every electrical item in the house is turned off, except the fridge, because we TRUST our fridges!  They are not going to spontaneously combust in our absence or suck energy with a thirst that would embarrass a vampire.    Where would we be without our fridges?

I’ve introduced a new category called Power Down.  It’s not strictly about renewable energy, although elbow grease, which I imagine is going to feature quite a bit in this category is pretty much that.   It is about being less reliant on mod-cons,  for which most of us rely upon people cleverer than ourselves to invent and design.  It usually means we also need experts to fix them when they go wrong, or worse we chuck them out and buy a new one. This is about simple technologies that all of us can employ.  So where would we be without fridges?

Before we got our inverter it was impossible to run a fridge all the time at our house.  Even now, with the inverter, we can only run a small fridge and certainly not a freezer.  (And we empty and turn that off when we go away!)  We did have fridge-freezer that ran on gas in the generator room which we used from time to time, but mostly it was inefficient, expensive and getting gas up here was a pain.  It has now conked out and is just a cupboard!

We managed quite well without a fridge to be honest.  Most of the year it is cold enough just to leave food outside or in even in the coldest part of the house. (Which was originally a pantry and was what most people managed with prior to the advent of the fridge!)  We only bought fresh food as we needed it – doing a large shop and stuffing your fridge full can be a recipe for waste – and remember that  fridges don’t work efficiently when they are over full.  We also came to the conclusion that a lot of what people keep in fridges is to some degree already a preserved version of a foodstuff; cheese,  bacon, any other cured meats, smoked or salted fish and there even seems to be a trend towards keeping jams, pickles and ketchups in the fridge.  Is that really necessary?

I think preserving is a very worthy way of ensuring we can enjoy our harvests during the winter months, jams and chutneys are fun to make and good to eat.  You might lose vitamin C but many other anti-oxidants, especially from berries, are concentrated in this way and will still be doing you lots of good.  Building vegetable clamps is another way of increasing the life of your harvest, they are suitable for most root crops aswell harder fruits such as apples and pears.  The basic idea is you choose a dry, free-draining spot and dig a trench around it for further drainage.  The excavated soil will be used to cover your clamp over.  Make a layer of straw, dried bracken, reeds - whatever is local to you – then lay on your first layer of crops.  Build it up in layers in this way.  Finish with a final layer of your insulating material and then cover over with the earth.  For more detailed instructions on clamp building visit here at Self-Sufficientish, always one of my favourite places! 

zeer6-freshThis is all fine if you happen to live in a cool climate but what about when things hot up?  How about making your own earthen-ware cool storage system?  I came across this idea at Practical Action, a charity that seeks to enable people to use local resources and simple technologies throughout the developing world. Go and visit, it’s a site full of brilliant ideas.  This particular idea is called a Zeer Pot and was developed using local clay in the Sudan.  The basic principle is that you take a large pot and a smaller pot that will fit inside that, this is the food storage area.  You fill the gap inbetween the pots with wet sand.  The water in the sand evaporates outwards towards the outer surface of the larger pot causing a cooling effect of several degrees in the centre.  The pots should be covered with a damp cloth and placed in a shady place where air can circulate around them, I’m going to rest mine on wooden pallets because we have those, but the original article suggests making iron stands.  The cloth and sand needs re-wetting every couple of days.  This method of storage can increase the life of tomatoes from two days to twenty days, or salad from one day to five days.  That’s about as good as a fridge I’d say!


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6 comments to Food Storage Techniques and Goodbye to the Fridge!

  • The Zeer Pot idea definitely sounds useful. We have a c**p gas fridge at the mo, but are planning on replacing it with a chest freezer with the temperature control over-ridden instead (we believe it will have extremely low power consumption and so be okay for use with our small solar set up). Gas fridges are so expensive to run and pretty inefficient.

    We do often keep things cool in buckets of water and so on in the summer so I guess the zeer pot is just a much tidier, drier version. Thanks for the useful Practical Action link Goo!

  • goo

    My pleasure Mrs DB. Make sure you write some posts about your new freezer set-up because we’ll definitely be interested in whether your system (and therefore ours!) will be up to it. We don’t like inadvertently kicking the generator into action!

  • Hi Goo
    The Zeer pot looks very cool. I have been getting in to pickling and jam making this year (inspired by the WI book of preserves, which has excellent recipes) and you are right it is such a good way of preserving the harvest. I was thinking of making a larder out of plasterboard or some such as an alternative to the fridge.
    Piers Warren wrote a very good book on the subject, called
    How to Store Your Garden Produce published by
    Thank you a very thought provoking post, I definitely like the Powerdown section.

    Have Fun

  • goo

    Hi Kester, you sound like a busy bee this year! Thanks for the book suggestions as always very helpful!

  • Just FYI, Colin Beaven (a.k.a. No Impact Man) used a zeer pot in his apartment in NYC and found that it did not work as he had hoped it would. I don’t know what, if anything, he did wrong, but he ended up abandoning it and using an ice chest (with ice from his neighbor … which wouldn’t be an option for you, I gather ;) .

    I haven’t figured out the best solution for us with regard to dispensing with the fridge. Here, it’s cool enough for enough of the year that we should do okay with a cold closet, but we still have to figure out where the best place in our house is to build it … and then, build it ;) .

    I like the point you make about refrigerating things like pickles – probably not necessary. We keep refrigerating our (fresh from the backyard, even!) eggs, too. I’m not sure why we keep doing that … probably habit, and the fact that we have so little storage and the fridge is a convenient place to shove them ;) .

  • goo

    Hi Wendy, thanks for that. We’ll give it a go still if the temperature ever warrants it, they’re forecasting more snow yet again for us! (No need for neighbours with ice boxes I guess!) Cheers for the pointers and all the best with your cold storage plans.

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