Storing Food Without the Refrigerator

Photo, Jihyun Ryou 

Last Monday I unplugged the appliances, turned off the hot water heater, and tried no impact living for a week. This year, I biked or walked almost everywhere, took the stairs instead of the elevator, ate seasonally and locally, and gave up toilet paper, so no electricity seemed like a natural progression. Mostly, I think EDF is ripping us off and wanted to see if they adjusted our bill to reflect a week of non-consumption (they are, and they didn't). I found Korean designer Jihyun Ryou's system (above) pretty but excessive. You don't need sand or fancy shelving to safely store fresh foods- all you need are a few glass containers, some water, and a few staple ingredients you probably already have on hand.

 
Secondhand Weck jars, from Leboncoin

To prepare for a week without refrigeration, I did some field research, asking butchers, fromagers, and enleveurs how to store meat, dairy, and eggs sans electricity.  Everybody thought this was the weirdest question. "We keep those things on the counter anyway," explained the man at the crèmerie. The guy at Griffon was really mean and dismissive. "Americans always put stuff in the fridge that doesn't belong," he muttered. Unwashed eggs and mayonnaise keep indefinitely if you turn the eggs to prevent the yolk from sticking. Eggs have a natural protective coating, so buying the organic, unwashed kind is imperative, ensuring freshness and preventing bacterial spoilage. Make sure no bacteria gets in the mayonnaise jar, using a clean spoon each time.


Soft cheeses, packed properly in cloth and glass, keep several days out of the refrigerator- 3 out of 4 fromagers said young cheeses, like Brie and Camembert, can be left unrefrigerated for weeks! The key is plastic-free storage, since plastic wrap prevents breathing. Preserving the rind is crucial. Cut, semi-soft cheeses with rinds keep one week up to one month, depending on the cheese. Firm cheeses can be consumed safely up to one month or longer, but the flavor changes, becoming more pronounced with age. I kept feta suspended in brine in an airtight glass jar, and after one week, it tasted just as fresh as when I bought it. Same goes for shredded cheddar, stored in glass with plenty of salt.

 

I bought small cuts of meat and kept them in glass containers to prevent spoilage (similarly, small containers of jelly, jam, nut butter and maple syrup discourage mold). The medieval French preserved meat by roasting it, then generously applying natural honey, fat or jelly. Today, butchers sell fat for confits, a delicious food preservation method in which meat is slow-cooked, salted and sealed (my friend Francoise puts orange juice in hers). Meat prepared this way can be consumed safely for months. I drank nut milk instead of cow's milk, and I guess I could have made ghee, but butter keeps 2-4 weeks anyway. So do sour cream, fermented milk, and yogurt, stored in glass in a cool, dark place.

  

Olive oil, tamarind or citrus juice, and vinegar are best friends of the refrigerator-free. You can store soft cheeses in them or preserve fish- the leftovers make good salad dressing later. My mom sometimes made gravlax with salmon. Balsamic vinegar kept tomato sauce and roasted strawberries fresh, white vinegar prevented moldy bread, lime juice made guacamole last, and tamarind sauce preserved meats, fish, and vegetables. Strong spices, curries, and stews keep well- a coriander-coated fish my friend made stayed tasty- as do beans soaked in salted water, vinegar, and lemon juice. Bringing leftovers to boil every day or so will keep them fresh, even in humid climates.


I didn't worry about fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes do best outside the refrigerator, and carrots and asparagus just need to be kept upright in a few inches water. If cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, wilt, soak the bottoms in water to restore. Remove potato eyes as they appear, and store with apples to preserve freshness. My simple system varied from day to day, but generally looked like this:

 

An unplugged, empty refrigerator smells stale after a few days. To prevent (or reverse) this, wipe the fridge down with white vinegar and keep an open jar of baking soda in there. A mixture of two parts water to one part baking soda applied with a clean cloth is effective, but you'll need white vinegar to wipe off any residue. Not that we should all go back to the pre-refrigeration days of botulism and food-borne illness, but this experiment tested my creativity and got me out of a cooking rut. I researched food storage methods from other cultures and nerdily tested bacterial levels to my heart's content (the difference between refrigerated and non-refrigerated food was nominal). That is paleo, vegan, gluten-free chocolate pudding at the bottom :) Made of homemade coconut milk and dark chocolate with sea salt, it didn't keep very long, because I ate it so fast! This post contains Shopstyle affiliate links. If you click on them, I make a commission. Thanks for your continuing support!

Paris to Go

11 comments:

  1. Thank you for this.
    I've been wanting to try going without a fridge for a while, and this is encouraging me to do it.
    I love Jihyun Ryou's art project!

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    1. That is awesome. Please blog about it if you do!

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  2. Hello,
    Can you please tell me where you buy those glass jars? Thanks ;)

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    1. Hi! Thanks for reading, sorry about my late reply! They are Weck jars. I got them from Leboncoin but you can buy them here. Hope this helps!

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  3. i went 3 days without electricity .... by force and without preparation: it was an electricity breackdown. That was during winter, so refregiration was not really a problem ... there was snow outside so we put everything we had in plastic bag under some snow.
    Getting warm and cook was really an issue.... all our appliance needed electricity.
    I guess i am the only one who really LOVED this experience : we lived with the rythm of the sun, sleep all together to keep warm, use candle for light. I felt really alive !
    Since, we have changed our hotplate for gaz and bought a wood burner,
    Did you cook during this experience or did you make a " raw " week ?

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    1. I love your description, "we lived with the rhythm of the sun." In Indonesia we did this, we got up early with the sunrise, went to bed at 8 when the sun went down, we were very happy. You were very creative to keep everything cold in the snow! It must be nice to have the wood burner on cold days.

      This week I just did raw. I miss cooking with a gas stove and of course we don't have a place to have a fire, but there were still plenty of meals to eat- strawberries with basil and olives, raw potato salads, etc. I cheated and made hummus before the experiment though :)

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  4. i've been eatin raw during 2 years so i guess it was pretty cool to prepare meals without cooking. so much combination and healthy food.
    a few years ago, i've read a very interesting book about how electricity is harmfull for the human race, ecpecially for our biological balance.
    i don't know if we should eat raw all the time ( i was not able too), but i know for sure that i would be happier without electricity and with a simplier life.
    zero waste is a step towards this goal.
    ps : and yes, reading in front of the wood burner is really satisfying

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  5. I would love to read that book! Certain things I can't eat raw- I try to eat potatoes raw sometimes for the probiotics but I prefer baked or steamed. I know I feel better when I wake up and fall asleep with the sun. Do you think you might live off grid someday? It's my dream, just have to get the husband on board :)

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  6. Here is the book : http://www.amazon.fr/Lights-Out-Sleep-Sugar-Survival/dp/0671038680/ref=sr_1_17?s=english-books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435579222&sr=1-17&keywords=lights+out
    If you read it, i would love to hear your feedback.
    Living off grid, i would love it, but as you said, just have to get the husband on board :)

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    1. Cool! I'll go to the library this week! Thanks for the recommendation.

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  7. In any off grid and SHIFT state of affairs, it's less probably that you just are able to use your refrigerator for protective your food, although you may be ready and equipped with energy supply. See more http://survival-mastery.com/diy/food_preserv/how-to-preserve-meat.html

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