Rational Preparedness

What Did I Learn From Living a Month Without a Fridge

You may have seen my series about living a month without a fridge.  Remember, I did this for a learning experience.  So what did I learn?  I’ve shared some of these things with you already but not all of them.  For example, I learned to can meat with my pressure cooker.  I learned grow microgreens and sprouts.  I learned a bit about preparing dry and canned goods, so that they taste good and I don’t suffer.  Some of these I will review here and I’ll talk about some that I didn’t mention before.

In addition to the things that I talked about in my announcement, preparations, and food pictures posts; I learned some things behind the senes.  I learned about holes in my SHTF plan.  Some of these are things that I can now easily fill.  I also learned that some things are awesome.

My goal here was not to just live without fresh food, developing SHTF cooking skills, but to test out my ability to live without external food sources for an extended time.  So this was a major test of my pantry.  I was surprised at how well it held up.  I wish I had taken before and after pics but I didn’t.  I can tell you that I could continue going without shopping for a much longer time than I ever thought possible before.  This is even though I don’t have a giant pantry full of food.   Yet, the quality of my existence would have slowly declined as I ran out of variety and relied more and more on my deep store of food — beans and rice.

About Being Healthy and Good Quality Food

 

I have to talk about this topic because my desire to eat healthy and be healthy has colored the food selection for the month greatly.  So this impacts everything I talk about below. Many shelf stable foods are processed foods.  Many of processed foods fly in the face of anyone trying to be healthy.  Most of my food storage is food I plan to eat, even outside of SHTF.  I want them to be healthy foods.  Much of what I learned was about finding ways to have food storage that fits my healthy eating dietary requirements.  In doing so, I also achieved a much more enjoyable experience.  These foods are delicious.

If you remember, I decided to use separate ingredients for most of my meals, instead of buying canned soups, stews, etc and dried prepper meal packs.  I believe this is healthier and a higher quality way to eat.  For example, one time I bought beef stew.  The can was mostly filled with potatoes and a thick starchy gravy.  Most of the prepper packs are filled with grain, yet they are expensive like you are buying full meals with quality ingredients.  You can buy romen noodles for pennies.  Many prepper packs amount to romen noodles with a few higher quality ingredients, like dried meats and veggies thrown in.  In the picture above, you see a rare case when I actually ate romen noodles but there are lots of other great ingredients to go with them.

I live a life of a mostly paleo/primal diet.  This means not eating grain.  Yet grain is one of the two two foods to store for long periods.  My philosophy is that it is healthier to eat grain than to die of starvation but let me first try to eat less of it.  Grain is a good store of calories but it lacks critical nutrients.  Worse, grain spikes and crashes your blood sugar, making you hungry.  When you are so hungry from a grain induced blood sugar crash, you are not as physically nor mentally functional.  In modern life, many people get through this by grazing.  In a SHTF scenario, you don’t want to eat all your food all day.

So to me, grain is something to resort to, if I have to.  Fortunately, there are lots of other things to eat.  I have grain in my deep store because I can buy 25 pounds of rice for $8 and store it for 10 years in Mylar bags.  Then I can throw it away without losing much money.  The other food costs more.  This means it’s budget smart to eat it as I rotate through it, instead of throwing it out at the end of its shelf life.

Another issue is corn syrup and other sneakier sugars like “evaporated cane juice.”  I have systematically removed refined sugar from my diet.  When you buy processed foods, at the store, with multiple ingredients, they usually come with sugar added.  About 95% of all sauces seem to come with some kind of refined sugar added.  Usually it’s corn syrup.  That put that nasty shit in almost everything that is ready to heat and eat.  Adding sugar to foods is a very cheap and lazy way to make foods taste palatable.  If you put enough sugar in something, people will eat it.   It takes real skill to produce good tasting foods without added sugar.  The ubiquitousness of refined sugar is another reason for buying separate ingredients.  When you buy dried carrots, you are getting carrots.  When you buy canned pork, you get pork and sea-salt.  This is not always true though.  See the canned veggie section below.

Pantry items and Kitchenware I Consider to Be Critical

 

Here are a list of items I found to be critical to making it through my month.  One thing, I didn’t make clear, at the onset of this series is that I did not go to the store and buy food during the entire month; with the one exception being a trip to buy the hunter sausage, a few days in.  That was just because I didn’t make it to the store before the month started.  Why are these items critical and what did I learn about them?  Some of this is obvious but some, not so much.

  • Canned meat
  • Canned veggies
  • Dried veggies
  • Beans – Both dried and canned
  • White Rice
  • Nuts and trail mix
  • Dried meat – The hunter sausage
  • Seasonings
  • Canning equipment and supplies
  • Water, and / or a method of purifying it

 

Dried Vs Canned Ingredients

Although I used both canned and dried ingredients; I think each offer their benefits over the other.  Canned ingredients offer speed and ease of use.  You open an can and heat it and it’s read to eat.  Dried ingredients take more time, as you have to re-hydrate them.  This drove me to cans on busy work days.

Yet, dried ingredients have a huge advantage over canned.  When you open a can, you must eat everything inside the can, within about 12 hours, or it’s garbage.  This is if you have a way to keep the opened canned foods out of the temperature danger zone of 41-160 degrees.  I used vacuum bottles, if you remember.

When you open dried foods, you can store them for a year or more, at room temperature.  This means you can use just a little bit of a dried ingredient.  This greatly helps you to increase the number of ingredients in a meal and make it much tastier.  You saw me do this when I added tomato powder to my fish.  Tomato powder is a powerful flavor enhancer.  I used maybe a teaspoon.  I would not have been able to use an entire can of tomato paste.

Canned Meat  — Especially My Own, Was Critical

Canned meat was the corner stone of most of my meals.  This is my primary source of calories and particularly protein, in every day life.  Going in, I bought lots of canned fishes and meats from the store but my own canned pork and beef turned out to be critical to this month.  I made these two items a major part of my diet for the month.

Pint jars turned out to be the perfect size for me.  I can eat the entire jar in one sitting.  I’m a big eater though.  This meant no leftovers to store.  I didn’t even think to can my own meat when I was first mentally preparing for this event.  Now I would not want to do this without my own meat.  You can choose the size jar that is right for you.  This is so much more flexibility than you get with store bought meats.  If you have a whole family to feed, you could use quart jars.  If you are alone and a smaller eater, there are other sizes to choose from.  Amazon has a huge selection of them.  I would definitely buy them online.  See the section below on equipment and supplies for an explanation.

One thing I will say, is if I were in an actual SHTF scenario, I could have dipped into my deep store sooner and increased my grain consumption.  This would have made each pint jar of meat last over two meals.  This would double the time I had until I ran out of meat. It would double the time until I was forced to rely heavily on grain as a primary calorie source and suffer the problems I mentioned above, in the section about healthy eating.

Canned Veggies and Other Plant Foods

Canned veggies were nice to have but I learned that I didn’t have very many to pick from.  You go to the canned vegetable isle of your grocery store and it looks large but a closer look shows there isn’t as much variety there as it looks like.  Worse, much of the variety that is there is plagued with refined sugar or it includes corn.  Corn is not a vegetable–from a dietary perspective.  It’s grain.  Farmers have known for 1000s of years, if you want to make an animal fat; pen it up and feed it corn.  I found refined sugar in an old favorite of mine 3 and 4 bean salad.  I also found refined sugar in canned squash and canned yams.

So I basically ended up with just canned green beans.  Yet, I found them to be important.  This is because they are easy to prepare and they complement meat.  I also had canned tomatoes.  You have to be careful with these too.  Some tomato products have sugar added.

Dried veggies

Dried veggies were a critical part of my month.  I showed you two brands, I bought on Amazon.  They were Harmony House and Augason Farms.  This is where I got my carrots, broccoli, and Bell Peppers.  Those three ingredients, in particular are critical to a healthy tasty SHTF life.  The broccoli and peppers both have huge amounts of vitamin C.  I learned that one number 10 can of broccoli is enough to last one person a month or more.  Because you can store them for a long time (30 years) I plan to purchase 6 of them.  I talked about the carrots before and why they are critical for long term SHTF health.  I talked about how a lack of vitamin A can cause blindness in children.  I also did some dried carrot vitamin A math.  This is not something first world people think about but it can happen if all you are eating is beans an rice for an extended period of time, though I don’t know how long that is. The carrots can be stored as long as the beans and rice.

I learned that I did not have enough kinds of dried veggies and for some, I needed a larger quantity on hand.  Specifically, I need more of three mentioned above.  I also need to invest in a dehydrator, so I can make more myself.  The home made ones tend to have larger pieces and you can dehydrate just about anything.  I wanted to have dried zucchini slices but I didn’t have any.   Oh, it looks like I could have ordered some.   I’ve never heard of this tsogo brand but they offer larger slices, that the other two brands above don’t offer.

Amazon has a ton of dehydrators to pick through.  I want to sort through them all for you and pick the top five that I would recommend for you.  Whether you are growing your own food or shop at local farmers markets, a dehydrator is good to have during harvest season, when food is plentiful and cheap.  The other item, that goes hand in hand, with a dehydrator is a mandoline slicer.   A search pulls up over 6000 results.

Beans – Both Dried and Canned

I carved beans out from veggies because they really are a different thing.  Beans are relatively cheap and can be stored for a very long time.  They offer protein but come packed with a significant amount of carbs.  They added a lot of nutrition and bulk to my meals.   The canned beans were nice to have on hand because they are ready to eat.  You just warm them up and go.

When you include dried beans in your deep store, they are a great improvement over just eating rice.  Dried beans take a significant amount of time and critical energy to prepare, though.  You have to soak them for 24 hours before you prepare them.  You can also bring the soak water to a boil.  Then soak them in the hot water (not still heating it).  Once soaked, you have to cook them for while.  This will consume critical fuel stores.  In my previous post, I mentioned pressure cooking them to save time and energy.

I bought most of my beans in the grocery store.  The grocery store disappoints when it comes to buying bulk beans though.  The best I have found are 5 or 10 pound bags of pinto beans and most come in 1 or 2 pound bags.  The packaging most beans come in, is good for about 1-3 years of shelf life.  With Mylar bags and O2 absorbers, you can increase the life to 10-30 years.

I thought I’d take a look for bulk beans at Amazon to see if they offer things I couldn’t get in the store.  When you look at that page, keep in mind that beans are typically about $1.30 to $2 a pound at the store.  You can kind of shop and compare between the bulk items online and the smaller bags at the store.  I found these pinto beans, that come in a large bucket.  They are a bit pricier than beans in the store but they come already packaged in durable packaging for long term (Up to 30 years) storage.  So you don’t have to buy the packaging or do the work.  I decided to click on the Saratoga Farms brand link and see what came up.  It looks like they offer a wide variety of beans and other things in various sizes of long term storage.

The large bucket of beans got me looking for something smaller but also packaged well.  Number 10 cans of dried beans are something you can buy a whole variety of and open to see which ones you like best.  Then buy more of those.  Here is what I found.  A number 10 can is the most durable way to store dry goods for the longest shelf life.

White Rice

White rice is the rice you want for your long term storage.  Unlike brown rice it has no fat that can go rancid.  This means white rice has a much longer shelf life than brown rice. You can find it in bulk in many places for very little money.  I bought mine at Costco.    They also sell bulk bags at many grocery stores.  I learned from the bag, that it has a 2 year shelf life, if you do nothing and just store it in the original packaging.  I decided to repackage mine in Mylar with O2 absorbers, for long shelf life of at least 10 years.

When you use O2 absorbers, the bags take on a vacuum sealed look.  That’s when you know they worked.  This happens because the absorbers combine the oxygen with iron to make rust.  The solid rust takes up a lot less space than the gaseous oxygen.  One of my bags did not work.  I don’t know why.  Did I take to long to get them all sealed and that was my last bag?  was it just a defective oxygen absorber?  Did the bag have a tiny hole in it?  I don’t know.  It didn’t seem to.  I decided to open that bag of rice during my month an start eating it.  The rest I’m keeping and will buy new rice before I think about touching them.

What if I don’t want to do that work?

If you don’t want to go through the work of buying big bags of rice, then buying packaging materials and repackaging the rice I found a solution.  Augason Farms sells 28 pound pails of white rice on Amazon.  The cost is only about Three times that of the rice I bought in the store.  Considering the cost of the Mylar bags and O2 obsorbers, I think this is well worth it.  The pail is not lined with Mylar but the company is giving it an “up to 30 year shelf life.”  Perhaps they have found a dense plastic?  I know there are non-Mylar helium balloons out there that hold helium just as well.

Update:  I asked a question on Amazon and the seller responded simply with a yes, to the plastic being a special non-porous kind.  That would explain the 30-year life expectancy without Mylar.

Nuts and Trail Mix

Nuts and trail mix were very useful to me during the month.  I ate them for breakfast on most days.  What I learned is that I need to have more of these because I ran out, by the end of the month.  These items have a limited shelf life but you can greatly extend that shelf life, by keeping them in the freezer.  When SHTF, their out of the freezer shelf life begins and they can last for many months that way.  Maybe longer.

Dried meat – The Hunter Sausage

At the top of this section, I mentioned that having dried foods was very helpful because it allows me to eat them in smaller portions.  This was very true of the meat sticks.  If you remember, liked including them with my eggs in the morning.  I was able to eat a very small quantity of meat with my breakfast but that little bit greatly improved the flavor of the meal.  Initially, I had planned to use canned meat and store it hot till later.  I only did this one time.  It was part of a coordinated effort to make 3 meals, that day.  The dry storage ability of the meat sticks were superior because I didn’t have to deal hot food storage of leftovers.

I ran out of the 2 pound bag of meat sticks around the end of the month.  The lesson here is that I need to have more on hand.  I kept 1 and 3/4 of a stick to see how my efforts of extending their dry storage shelf life would pay off.  I’m a few weeks outside of the month and I ate the smaller stick.  It tastes good still.  This is good news.  I don’t know how long they will last because there is some oil in them.  I suspect I could keep them this way for a year.  I think it would be good to keep least 6 pounds of these sticks on hand, at all times.  I’d keep them in the freezer, where they would probably last a very long time, then prepare them for dry storage in a power down scenario.  If you vacuum seal them, you could store them in the freezer for years.

Kowalski hunter sausage is made by a Polish company in a Polish city, Hamtramck (Pol Town)  in Metro Detroit.  It’s my opinion that you will not find better sausage made by any other ethnicity of people on earth.  Italian sausage doesn’t hold a candle to Polish.  This hunter sausage tastes very similar to Polish Kielbasa, though it is drier.  One thing about it, it does have dextros in it, which is a sneaky way of saying sugar.  Yet, when you look at the nutritional information, it says that it is not a significant source of sugars and shows 0 grams of sugar.  So, it must have a tiny amount.  This is not true of many dried meats on the market–especially jerky.  Jerky is often sweet.  I have a very difficult time finding dried meats that aren’t laced with sugar.

I bought mine at Sam’s Club and it’s probably only available locally.  So looked to see if it was available on Amazon.  It’s not.  I did find that Kowalski sells it at their own store, online.  If you buy the 2 4.5lb bags, that’s the best deal but it’s still not as cheap as Sam’s Club sells it for.  It’s a good buy and if I didn’t live where you could just buy it off the shelf, I’d order it in the larger package.

Update (7/04/17):  It’s been at least 4 months since I took the sausage out of the fridge and stored it in paper towel.  The above picture is from today.  I took a slice off of the sausage and it appears to be in the same condition it was in two weeks after I took it out of its packaging.  I tasted it and it tastes the same as then too. It’s crunchy on the outside and not quite so on the inside.

It’s just been in my pantry, in that paper towel the whole time.  If you are going to do this, I recommend using paper towel or paper bags at first.  Don’t put too many together so they have room to air out.  I’ve had mine packaged this way the whole  time but a thought occurs to me.  My home is air conditioned and therefore dry, even in summer.  In a SHTF event, humidity might be higher, in your home.  Once your sausage reaches the driest it is going to be in open air, consider putting it in a zip bag full of rice.  This will keep it very dry.  I have not tested this, though and cannot speak to the results.

Seasonings and Other Flavor Enhancing Methods

Having seasonings is critical for your sanity during a SHTF event.  If you look at the other posts in this series, you will see that seasonings were very important.  Most long term storage foods don’t taste that good by themselves.  They need a little dressing up.  Even fresh foods do.  I like to buy seasonings in bulk from Sam’s Club, GFS, and a local Mennonite store that sells them in bulk.  They last a long time and it’s good to have a bunch on hand.  It’s really up to you to decide what your favorites are and keep a few months worth on hand.

I realized that I nearly ran out of garlic and pepper.  I will keep a closer eye on my spice inventory, in the future.  I would not want to go 3 months without having access to garlic and pepper.  Ugh!

My favorite seasonings and flavor enhancers are: pepper, garlic, minced onion, thyme, rosemary, basil, ginger, chili powder, red pepper, chicken bouillon, soy sauce, hot sauce, dark sesame seed oil, and tomato powder.  I have many other seasonings but if I just had these, I could go a very long time without suffering food boredom.  I did not know that tomato power could be used as a seasoning until I tried it on my fish.  It was very good.  Making canned fish taste delicious is an accomplishment I’m proud of.

I noticed that most of these pantry foods taste better if they are eaten together, instead of one at a time.   Because canned foods are wet and dehydrated foods need water added, most of my meals were juicy.  I did not drain the broth out of the cans and I did not drain the extra water from re-hydrating the veggies.  My best meals were meats and veggies mixed together.  I served them in a bowl with all the juices included and well seasoned.  These juices contained great amounts of flavor and probably nutrients too.

Canning equipment and supplies

If you like to keep meat in your freezer, like I do, it’s good to have canning jars on hand.  If the grid goes down, you can store your meat as I did at the top of this series.  I made that point in my post about the first day with no fridge.   That’s when I canned the beef I had in my freezer, which greatly helped me get through the month.  That beef was great and I ate all of it.  With canning jars and supplies, on hand, you don’t have to fear loss from having a meat stockpile in your freezer when the power goes down.  You do have to have a grid down heat source, to can it with, though.  I used electricity and my stove but could use butane.

When I tried to buy the jars locally, that day, I had to go to 3 stores.  All three stores carried the jars but two were out of stock and one had limited stock.  I bought the only two boxes they had and paid dear for them.  This seems to be a trend with canning jars.  It’s not my first time seeing it.  It’s best to have some on-hand.  You can save yourself the headache of driving from store to store to get what you want by ordering them, in advance.

Probably the cheapest and easiest way to get them is to buy them at Walmart’s website.  They are much cheaper than what I found elsewhere.  If you only need a few, you might think about in store pick up.  The website will likely tell you that they are available for pick up, today, but I give you a 30% chance that is not true.  By ordering them online, you can find out the truth, without having to go the store or call any clueless people at the store.  It’s probably simpler to just order enough to get free shipping and have them sent to your home.  Amazon also has a wide variety of Jars and supplies.   Don’t forget to have a book on hand too.

I recommend having at least 2 or 3 lids for every jar you own.  This way, you can have them on hand for reusing your jars, while the grid is down.  Maybe your garden comes in and you harvest.  Maybe you go hunting and want to store your kill. With a food saver, and jar attachment, they are good for dry storage too.  Of course you will need to have a pressure canner too.  A pressure canner is a whole series of product review posts for this site, in the future.  An amazon search brings 388 results, as of this writing.  This is a lot of data to sort through.

Water, and / or a Method of Purifying It

I never mentioned in my earlier posts, in this series about where I was getting my drinking water.  I started out with bottled water, then moved on to a filter.  Let’s talk about bottled water first.

The water I chose was gallon jugs of spring water.  Sam’s Club sells 6 gallon boxes of this but not at the one by me.  The boxes are great because they can be stacked and make storage a snap.  I always buy spring water because it as a bit of calcium that tastes great.

 I’ve always wanted to buy a Berkey water filter.  I’ve delayed doing so because I don’t have a lot of room.  The larger Berkeyes take up a significant amount of space and the smaller onces don’t cost that much less.  That’s because the cost is in the filters an not the stainless steel containers.  I finally broke down and purchased a travel Berkey.  It’s small enough to fit on my counter and it holds 1 1/2 gallons of water.

I have primarily drank bottled spring water because I don’t like the chlorine taste in my tap water.  The Berkey removes this chlorine but unlike RO/DI filters or distillers, it leaves in minerals, such as calcium.  This makes my Detroit City tap water taste just like the spring water I had been buying for years.  I love the filter and use the water when cooking and making tea now too.

Having one of these filters on-hand is a great SHTF plan because if the city water goes down water can be drawn for over land sources, or a well could be dug by hand, if you live in a wet area.  Berkey claims that its filters will make this water safe to drink.  If you are unsure about this claim, you can always add a few drops of bleach to the water first, then filter it out for great taste.

Amazon has a large selection of Berkey filter sizes and packages.  Water filters are something that could be a series of articles.  There are even other brands but I had tried other people’s Berkeys and knew I would like one of theirs.

Things I Didn’t Get To In My Month

 

Bake bread

I have the ability to bake bread using cast iron pans or dutch ovens and wood fire or charcoal.  I thought I would do this this month, as a demonstration for you, but I didn’t.  I have lodge pans and dutch ovens.  These are again, a potential for a series of articles.  I’ll just say a few things here that can get you started.

The shallow oven shown in the picture and linked to on Amazon, is preferable for making bread.  You can follow any recipe for Irish soda bread or corn bread and they can be easily converted to dutch oven bread.  The oven comes with an instruction booklet.

The lids of these Dutch ovens are concave and so they hold coals.  This allows heat to reach the top of your bread and brown it.  These ovens are shallow.  Deeper ovens are not as good for bread is because the lid heat is not as intense on the top of the bead, which is further from the lid. You could probably still use a deep braising oven for bread though.  Just put more coals on the lid. The lids for these dutch ovens, fit on lodge skillets of the same diameter.  I have the deeper braising ovens and use the lids to make skillet bread in my skillets.

Live on the deep store alone

At no point did I decide not to use my canned meats or veggies and wide variety of foods and just live on beans rice and dried carrots.  I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I hope that life never comes to that.

Try Fasting

I considered fasting for a time, during my month and just didn’t do it.  The month end crept up on me and I had not yet tried out all of my foods.

Write About Growing Micro Greens

I also never covered my process of growing microgreens.  I decided to leave that off because this series is long and there are lots of other websites that cover this.  The only thing I will say is that I built shelves for my south window instead of using lights.  Obviously I wanted to do it without electricity.

Other thoughts and tidbits

I gained weight during the month.  It was only a few pounds but it did come as a surprise.  So you could say I was very well fed.

I drank a lot of tea.  There is a great variety of tea on the market, it stores well, and it added pleasure to my month.

 

Articles In This Series

I’m Going To Live With No Fridge For a Month My thoughts about what I expected to come and how I planned to live.

Canning Pork – An Awesome Preparation for a Month Without Refrigeration  This was a great experience and I highly recommend it.

Day 1 of the Month Without a Fridge and Canning Beef  My initial actions on day one.  I store fresh foods to make out out of the fridge for a month.

My First Week without a Fridge — In Delicious Pictures  I’m taken by surprise by how well everything is going

My Last Three Weeks Without a Fridge –In Delicious Pictures Pt. 1.  Everything is going great and I learn some new things.

The End of My Month Without a Fridge – Spouting Beans.  I had a SHTF Feast! More deliciousness to share and more to say about preparing SHTF food.

What Did I Learn From Living a Month Without a Fridge  Some final thoughts on the lessons I learned by living this way.

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