Had a new comment come in on one of the "unplugging your fridge" threads, so I'm going to take this opportunity to answer a number of questions on that topic.
First of all; let me point out that Vanessa, of Green As A Thistle ACTUALLY -oh-my-gosh- UNPLUGGED; on May 17.
That's 20 days ago- and not only is she apparently NOT dead, from starvation or food poisoning; but she's actually- um, feeling pretty frisky.
And, her blog post there about unplugging got 30 comments; a lot for this blog.
For those of you new to this thread, it started here.
Before I get to the questions, I want to plug an idea that came to me a while back-when trying to answer a question on Colin aka NIM's blog.
I live in the woods. When I moved here 30ish years ago, one of the best sources of information was the Foxfire Books . By far. Multiple stories from old-timers who'd DONE what they were talking about, for years. Much of the construction of the Little House came right out of Foxfire One. It was enormously more useful than sources like the Mother Earth News - which alas tended to be full of tremendously enthusiastic "success" stories; from people who'd done what they were writing about - once; probably last month.
Most folks live in cities. That's not going to change, maybe ever.
Where are the Foxfire Books about life in the city?
Very seriously; there are lots of older folks who lived without refrigerators- or water, or heat, or airconditioning - in the cities. But we are losing them. And their knowledge and experience is priceless.
SOMEBODY reading this- needs to launch an Urban Foxfire project. REALLY. I'm talking to YOU. :-) More than one; really; living in Boston is not the same as living in San Diego.
You could get funding! And Save Lives, in the years ahead.
Ok, questions. I'll start with the newest first, since Isle Dance posted just a day or so ago, and is possibly still hoping for an answer sometime soon. Here we go.
May 21, 2007 3:05 PM Isle Dance said...
"Could I really get away with keeping a bulk jar of Mayo out of refrigeration? Do I want to risk testing this out? Of course, in the future, I'll ideally make a fresh batch as needed, so that would solve the whole dilemma."
Eee. Mayo scares the heck out of me, since many times it contains egg; which spoils very quickly. One of the tactics that works very well when fridgeless is to change spoilage-prone foods from "daily staples" to "occasional luxuries". Just buy a small jar of mayo that you can use up before it spoils. I guarantee you'll appreciate it as much as if you'd had the BIG jar. Being less common makes you notice it far more. Cheaper, too.
"Once a week I buy a bulk order of cooked poultry (a temporary thing) but see myself keeping some free range in the freezer in the future. So, I'm guessing I really do need a small freezer drawer, at least. Or?"
If you're really going to stash meat, you've GOT to either freeze it- OR CAN it, or DRY it. It'll depend on your preferences. Taking chances with unrefrigerated meat is very likely to get you into the hospital sooner or later. I've canned chicken- it works pretty well, taste wise. It takes quite a bit of energy to can, of course; but once canned it can sit on your shelf for a year, with no problems; likely longer. Drying chicken?? hm. Not so sure. Lots of folks dry beef; I've jerked beef and venison; no problems there. I HAVE had a "freezer locker" in town sometimes; used to be that every small town had a "locker plant"; much less common now, but still out there. That can be a good solution too. And/Or - eat less meat in warm weather. We do- and in fact, it's AMAZING how much more interesting a hamburger is when you've been living on new potatoes and peas and applesauce and peanutbutter and radishes for 4 days. :-)
"Do you recommend a particular cooking pot brand that seems to work best for unrefrigerated meat cooking/storage?"
Not really- what you want is stainless steel, or cast iron for stews; always with a lid that fits VERY well. Leaky lids will let that random bacterium in, and start things spoiling. Good old cooking pots are awfully easy to find in garage sales/auctions. I don't use teflon anymore.
"I keep a week's worth of fresh organic fruits and veggies in a low, cool cabinet. However, fruit flies can be an issue (even if stored in sealable containers). Maybe I've just not found the ideal container? I've assumed this means I should really be refrigerating these things to avoid the hassle."
Yep, fruit flies are a pain. For me, the best tactic has been to totally clear out the population of flies, by not having ANYTHING available for them to live on for a week- then start over. If you are careful not to let any fruit/potatoes start spoiling, you can go a long time before the flies get back in. Putting fruit into sealed containers is perhaps a way to make it spoil faster- some will ripen much quicker if their own "exhalations" build up around them; ethylene being a major one. There's an art to it, and vigilance is more than half the battle.
"One of my favorite Mother Earth News articles (about fifteen years ago) displayed instructions on how to build an outdoor underground/stream fridge. I've always wanted one...but there are lots of rats on islands...ew...I might be too girly to deal with them near my food!"
I don't have rats- I've got raccoons, which are kind of like rats on megasteroids. The trick is to make your storage TRULY SECURE. If they are NEVER able to GET food there; they will not hang around. If your storage is - ALMOST good enough- what you have is an animal feeding station. If they CAN get in; they'll hang around constantly until they do. If a coon finds out that one time in 10 there is catfood left on the porch- he'll visit the porch EVERY night, and poke into everything, looking for that catfood. You can have NEVER; or FOREVER with the critters.
I have a good rule there, related to my Aggressive Passive Design Principle- if you're building something like your stream cooler, and you find yourself saying "hm.. MAYBE this will be strong/good enough..." - - - IT ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH. Build it so there's just no question.
May 21, 2007 11:00 AM tansy said...
"i've been playing around with this myself. if it were just me and my kids i could do it but the other adult would not be receptive to the idea."
You could sneak up on 'em- "just for this week, dear..." :-)
"question on the eggs, how do you know when they've gone bad, the smell? do they instantly stink?"
Not necessarily. If you use your eggs within one week, there's RARELY any problem. When you're dealing with 2 week old eggs, what you do is crack them into a separate bowl- one at a time, before you add them to whatever you're cooking. Once cracked, a spoiled egg is very obvious!
April 5, 2007 5:30 PM Robbyn said...
"Do you use fermented foods often, and if so, do you have a good resource so that a person like myself can know if how to keep foods safe? Seems we've lost a lot of collective traditional knowledge in our age of "progress".
Hey, exactly! Urban Foxfire time! I'm a cheese fan; Spice is a yoghurt fan. I've made pickles and sauerkraut at various times. All those are pretty safe; if your cheese has gone bad, it's usually obvious; and cheese in fact keeps beautifully with no refrigeration- as long as you're fairly constantly USING it up. Any good cheese store will sell "cheese-keepers" that are designed to keep it from drying out as it sits on your kitchen counter.
The whole point to fermented foods is that we intentionally get a "friendly" microorganism started in it- and then that bug keeps other bugs out. Mostly works. But there's tons of "art" to all fermenting- ask any winemaker... or cheesemaker. Fun, too, though.
April 11, 2007 11:04 AM Robbyn said...
"Do you have any suggestions for my climate? I'm in Florida, and needing ideas. "
Ah. Yep, different climates have different problems and solutions. I lived in the tropics a couple times as a kid, so I am familiar.
"Unfortunately, we have acclimated to AC to the point where it will take our eventual move to acreage OUT of the city (where we can safely keep windows raised for ventilation) and a period of time to get used to the "untempered" hot temps. Any suggestions?"
Boy oh boy. Needs a book. Hm. "Miami Urban Foxfire Book..." :-) The tropics I lived in were pretty wet/humid, so not so far from Florida. A big part of the problem these days is that architects have totally embraced airconditioning/massive power use. Buildings are constructed with NO thought to anything else, which makes it very very difficult. Most native architecture in such regions is "open" - often just a roof, with mat walls for storms, but otherwise open on all 4 sides for the breeze to blow through. And the mosquitoes, if you built too near a swamp. Not to gloss over the problems.
I DO know from multiple times visiting home during college that your body DOES adapt to non-airconditioned um, conditions. And it takes several DAYS. When you're used to leaving the airconditioned house for the air-conditioned car to go to the airconditioned mall or store- it's a shock to live in the real world at first. Bloody hot! But in 4 or 5 days suddenly it will feel mostly comfortable. It will NOT happen in one or two days.
"Also, do you preserve your food for the times it's not so readily available? We don't live in a forageable area, for the most part, but I'm trying to gather ideas of how we can shrug off our dependency on modern "musts." To us, this spells freedom, whatever OUR choices will be throughout the process."
We DO can vegetables, and have salted meat in the past, as well as having a freezer-locker. Drying stuff is good when it works; we eat a lot of dried apples!
I recently learned something interesting; and perhaps useful- a major reason breadfruit was such an important foodstuff in Polynesia was that it could be fermented. Buried. Taro, also- good Hawaiian poi can be pretty tangy. So those folks certainly ate stuff fresh- but also stored things up for the thinner times.
Ok- getting long- nuff for now.