Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Have you ever wondered how people preserved their food in the days before refrigerators existed? Ensuring food was properly stored and preserved was a major priority for families in the era before refrigerators (fun fact: the first refrigerators for home use were invented in 1913).
Today, sticking food in the refrigerator or the freezer so it lasts is a major luxury that most of us take for granted. It’s for that reason that haven’t taken food storage without a refrigerator seriously…at least until now (after all, you’re reading this article).
The truth is that even today there are many reasons to learn how to store food without a refrigerator. Besides it being a crucial life skill that you would be wise to learn, these reasons include:
- Your refrigerator breaks down and you suffer financial hardship, forcing you to turn to alternative means to store your food.
- Major heat waves cause brownouts and result in the authorities ordering everyday people to disconnect appliances that consume a lot of power (FYI – in most American homes, refrigerators consume more electricity than any other appliance).
- There’s an extended power outage (due to a natural disaster or unforeseen circumstances) and the power coming back on is delayed by several weeks. Keep in mind that it only takes a few days at the longest for refrigerated or frozen foods to spoil, so you’ll need to take action quickly in this scenario
- A grid-down disaster (such as an EMP attack) knocks out the power, including your household appliances
- An economic collapse with massive supply shortages ensues, your refrigerator becomes damaged or broken, and you are unable to get it replaced due to supply chain issues.
- You want to set aside a long-term supply of food (a year or more). Obviously, you can’t store that much food in a refrigerator.
In the old days, families spent much of fall harvesting and preserving as much food as possible before winter set in. Their lives depended on it. The knowledge they had about how to store food over the long term has been largely forgotten by most folks today.
But as we’ll soon see, it is perfectly possible to live without the convenience of quick refrigeration. Here are the top ways to store food without a refrigerator.
Want to save this post for later? Click Here to Pin it On Pinterest!
Canning is a traditional food preservation method that kills dangerous bacteria and keeps your food sealed up and safe until you open the cans again. And when you can food and open it, you can also eat it instantly without any additional preparation.
That being said, canning food is a multi-step process and requires a learning curve. The best way to learn how to can is in-person from somebody who is already experienced in it. If you don’t know anybody who knows how to can, you can at least follow along with a video such as Pressure Canning 101.
But to give you an idea of what canning entails, you’ll need to complete the following steps:
- Make sure that all jars and lids you’re using for canning are clean and sterilized (boiling the jars and lids in a pot of hot water for a few minutes does the trick).
- Add the food that you want to store into the now sterilized jar.
- Pour boiling water into the jar after placing in the food.
- Add seasonings into the jar as well (if desired).
- Make sure that space is left at the top of the jar.
- Take the sterilized lid and screw it as tightly as you can over the jar.
- Now, loosen the lid about a quarter of the way back (this action permits air trapped in the jar to escape).
- Submerge the jar in a pot of water and boil (NOTE: the boiling time will depend on the food you are storing, so be sure to research appropriately).
- Remove the jar from the pot of boiling water and retighten the lid as much as you can.
- Allow the jars to cool before storing.
The above process works for meats, fruits, and vegetables. Besides learning directly from somebody experienced, you should also purchase books on canning and preservation that offer unique instructions/recipes for different foods. A great place to start is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
2. Cellar Storage
Another simple option for storing food without a refrigerator is to use cellar storage. Granted, this is only possible if you, well, own a cellar. But if you do own a cellar (or at least a cold room underground) then this will be a great option.
Long story short, vegetables and fruits can remain fresh for weeks so long as they are kept in a dry cellar less than fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Just make sure you avoid bruising or washing the fruits and vegetables before you store them; doing so will make it much easier for them to spoil.
If you don’t have a cellar, you can always make a mini root cellar.
Perhaps the easiest way to store food without a refrigerator is via dehydration. Some of the worst enemies of food (meats, grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.) for causing spoilage are bacteria, mildew, and mold – all of which arise in a moist, humid, or wet environment.
Dehydrating removes all moisture so food can be stored for a long time. This is why food dehydration has been used by cultures and civilizations all over the world for most of human history.
Native American tribes, for example, would dry their meat to remove moisture. They accomplished this by hanging the meat between teepee poles and setting a small fire underneath the meat for the duration of the day. Over the course of several hours, the smoke from the fire would dry the meat and remove the moisture.
On cold and damp days, this process would take a little longer, but on warm or dry days, the drying process could be accomplished in less than a day. The now dried meat would then last them for months.
They would wrap the meat, tie it up tightly with string, and then store in a building or teepee reserved for the purpose of reserving meat. Wrapping the meat and storing it in a dedicated storehouse help to ward off insects and other pests.
Today, there are many methods that you can use for dehydrating foods. These include, but are not limited to:
This is arguably the simplest way to dehydrate food effectively. Simply set down a tray with a mesh screen on it in full sun. Place your food on the tray, then set another mesh screen over the food to help protect it against insects. Or you could purchase a solar dehydrator online.
Sun drying is a very effective method for drying food, but it does come with restrictions. For one thing, it’s only possible on a hot summer day (minimum 85 degrees Fahrenheit) and with low humidity. Furthermore, certain foods such as fruits will take several days to dry, even when the above conditions are met.
Do you have an oven in your kitchen? If so, you can use it to dehydrate food.
Set the temperate to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t set it any higher or else it will end up cooking your food rather than dehydrating it. Set the food that you would like to dehydrate on a tray in the oven.
Keep the door open, because this will allow the moisture to escape. It helps to set up a fan that is pointed at the oven. Depending on the food you’re dehydrating, you can expect this process to take between six and ten hours.
Another handy method for dehydrating food is to use an electric dehydrator. These are kitchen appliances that come with multiple trays and fans to ensure that heat is evenly distributed.
Electric dehydrators can be very expensive (the best models often cost over a thousand dollars), but as long as you plan on consistently using them over the long term, they can be a good investment.
Salting meat is another old and highly effective method for preserving meat. This is because salt creates an environment where bacteria simply cannot thrive (so long as the concentration of salt is above ten percent). This is because the salt sucks all the moisture out of the bacteria.
You can also salt nearly any kind of meat including beef, pork, chicken, or even fish and seafood. Just avoid salting ground meats (like taco meat or burgers). The greater surface area in ground meats makes salting more difficult. Stick to steaks, roasts, chicken, fish, and so on.
Salting meat is incredibly simple. For every pound of meat, apply at least a half teaspoon of salt over the surface of the meat. Every part of the meat should be covered in the salt (the top, the bottom, and the sides) and it should be evenly distributed as well. Normal table salt like you can get in the grocery store (or may have at home already) will work just fine.
And that’s it! Your salted meat will last for about two weeks without a refrigerator, and for up to a year in the freezer.
The above preservation methods are each very effective at ensuring that food is stored safely over the long term, even if you don’t have a refrigerator.
As a final piece of advice, make sure you practice these methods now before an emergency pops up. You never want a true emergency where your refrigerator has been knocked out of action to be the first time (or even the second or third time) that you put these preservation methods to the test.
Like this post? Don’t Forget to Pin it On Pinterest!
Frans Petrus Roestof says
This is so wonderful and helpful I think that everyone should have a book of your idees. Unfortunately I don,t work because medical issues,have steel in back and nek. So for me it is unfortunate no money no book. I was wondering if you maybe can spare one book to giveaway to me please if it’s possible. My son give me a iPad with data to do my homework on family history research.its a program that is free of charge. I will appreciate it very much and will make use of this book to preparation and adapt my live style now already. Regards Frans Roestof