I talk a lot about practicing your preps. I think practice is important because no matter how much you think you are prepared, practice can show you that you are not. Just thinking about living for a month with no fridge has me thinking about holes in my plans. Before I go without a fridge, I’m taking steps to fill these holes.
I prefer to make foods from individual ingredients, rather than buy things like canned soup or those prepackaged prepper products, people buy for convenience. I do this because I can make higher quality meals and when it comes to grains, beans, and products made from them, I can save money. A lot of the ready to heat and eat products come with a premium price and cheap ingredients. Making meals from separate ingredients poses a challenge though. Opening up several separate ingredients usually makes it difficult to prepare a meal for one person to eat in one sitting. What do I do with my leftovers?
Storing Leftovers Off-Grid
Back in my grocery management days, I learned that storing perishable food between 41 and 160 degrees leads to spoilage in as little as 4 hours. I’m sure some foods could last longer than that and it would vary according to how close to the middle of that temperature range, the food was stored. Yet, keeping food out of this “danger zone” is a real challenge without a refrigerator. Although I’m not doing a full grid down practice here, I am going grid down for my food storage. That means no crock pots, keeping the food over 160 degrees, either. It would be a waste of fuel to keep a pot on any kind of grid down heat source too.
What I came up with, was to use vacuum insulated bottles. First I bought one that was 24 oz. I chose that size because it was Stanley’s largest “food jar.” See it on Amazon. What separates a food jar from a drink bottle is food jars have wider mouths and no pour spouts. This makes it easier to get food in and out and no clogging of spouts. It also makes the food jars easier to clean because you can get brushes and sponges into them, easier and with more force. Having a wider mouth has one disadvantage over a drink bottle though. The lid is not vacuum insulated, so these kind of bottles/jars don’t hold the heat as long as a drink bottle. They do hold it long enough for what I’m trying to do, though.
I tried the 24 oz food jar out with my lunch I brought to work. I immediately learned that the food jar was much too small. I’m amazed that this is the largest size. I bought kielbasa and boiled cabbage to work. I ended up just storing the cabbage in the jar and the sausage in the fridge, at work. I think I will like having this small jar for side dishes but I need something bigger.
I purchased something a lot bigger, from Amazon. It was a Stanley Adventure Vacuum Crock, which is 3 quarts. This seems to be a quality product, though reviews on Amazon recommended not dropping it because its latches can break. The food crock has a very wide lid and that means it doesn’t keep hot as long. I was hoping to get 12 hours out of it.
To test the vacuum crock out, I made chicken vegetable soup. I should have recorded the temperature, as I don’t remember what it was. I do know my food was still hot but well into the danger zone at 12 hours. I think it was fine though. I consider it’s ability to store food for 12 hours to be a success, even though, I don’t think it was fully hot for 12 hours. It would probably be less successful if it wasn’t full of liquid though.
Another time, I used the crock for something not prepper related. I kept carrots piping hot, for the duration of thanksgiving dinner. People were able to get butter melting second helpings of carrots, half an hour or more, after I pulled them off the stove and drained them. The lid hangs on the side, so it didn’t take up too much room on the table.
After using these two hot food storage solutions, found myself having a Goldilocks moment. The food jar was too small and the food crock turned out to be too big for most uses. I really need something that is about a quart or so. Searching Amazon for “Vacuum Crock” shows there are a whole host of these crocks in different sizes. Some of them are quite large and would be appropriate to bring to off grid parties, say at the beach. See this Thermos, for example. That’s nice but not what I need.
I considered using my 1.4 qt hot drink bottle. It has superior heat retention to anything mentioned above but it does have a narrow lid, which I’d have to find a special bottle brush to fit through. It also has a pour spout which has crevices that would be hard to clean. It does have the advantage of me already owning it, so it won’t cost anything, but I think I want to pass on this option.
My Hot Storage Solution
A friend of mine carries a 36 oz. Stanley water bottle around. It’s different from the hot cold bottles that are more commonly used for hot beverages, in that it has a wide mouth. Although it has a pour spout, it doesn’t have all the places for food to be trapped in it, that my tea bottle has. At 36 oz., I believe this water bottle is the right size for me. With the taller shape, the water bottle performs better than the food jars and crocks but not as well as my drink bottle, at keeping things hot. I’ve decided to order one. After receiving it, I noticed the label doesn’t say anything about hot storage times. All the other bottles have both hot and cold times, even if they are geared towards one temperature or the other. Stay tuned to this blog, to see how it works out.
One concern I have about storing food, hot this way, is the food will continue to slowly cook as it is stored hot. In both causes, this didn’t seem to be much of a problem. Because the temperature is lower than boiling, these crocks are a bit like putting food into a slow cooker. Some are even advertised as cookers. There are recipes for cooking in them too. The food cooks quite gradually though. Putting the food in, just a bit under-cooked, is a good idea. Both my soup and my cabbage were quite good, several hours after I put them in the jar and crock. The cabbage was noticeable more tender, than before I packaged it but I liked it. The soup had broccoli in it and it was not overcooked. Broccoli is very sensitive to overcooking too. In both cases I boiled the veggies until I was confident they were hot but not fully cooked.
Getting Fresh Food, Year Round–In a Condo
I eat a lot of veggies. I follow an 80% primal diet and that means eating mostly meat and veggies. When faced with the notion of eating only canned and dried veggies I felt a bit of dread. Don’t get me wrong; I can work magic with some canned and dried veggies. I just wanted something better to spice things up. I decided to take on the growing of bean sprouts and microgreens. I live in a condo, with one small south facing window. I will have very limited space to grow them but they grow fast and quite densely. I should be able to harvest microgreens several times over the month. They will add nutrition and flavor to my meals.
I’m not going to get into detail about my shopping experience and my construction of my growing space, in this post because I have just scratched the surface on this. I have some ideas about how I want to do it and will share them in a later post. Stay tuned to this blog as I prepare for my month without a fridge. I’m planning to start the month about 2 weeks after I get the microgreens growing station set up.
Next up, in my preparation to live without a fridge, I spent a couple of weekends learning how to can pork. I canned 32 pint jars of pork and I will be telling you all about what I learned along the way. I did this because I wanted something better than I could buy at the store. I believe I got it but have some concerns. Check back soon to find out what I learned.