I am often asked how to live without a refrigerator, especially in tropical climates.
Honestly, it’s not complicated at all. You just need to know a few rules and tricks, and it all becomes very normal.
Personally, I don’t feel any desire to have a refrigerator because…
First of all, what would we need it for ? Well, I would say that today I understand its usefulness when you’re alone or with one other person, because to vary and balance meals, you generally need to cook quantities of ingredients that are a bit too much for a single meal for two. In that case, yes, it would be “convenient” to be able to store pre-cooked food. But that rarely happens on Karaka since we are usually 4 to 7 people 80% of the year.
For me, a refrigerator is now just another thing to repair, another thing that consumes electricity, a risk of being a breeding ground for bacteria if not properly cleaned, and a place where food gets piled up and forgotten (living in a shared space). It provides easy access to beers and sour cream, even though I’m happy not to have them 100% of the time and to savor these pleasures only when we go ashore.
In the end, for me, it has more disadvantages than benefits.
One basic rule for living without a refrigerator is to buy fruits and vegetables that have never been refrigerated. Buy them at the local market or in the non-perishable section of the supermarket. Once they have been refrigerated, we can’t keep them at room temperature for more than a few days, as they start to spoil.
If you buy them non-perishable, depending on the varieties and the regions of the world where you buy them, they can last 1 to 3 weeks or even longer for items like squash, potatoes, onions, cabbage, etc.
There are many products that people are used to refrigerating even though it’s not necessarily necessary.
Here are a few examples :
- Eggs, if they haven’t been refrigerated, can generally be stored for up to 6 weeks. Remember to turn them once a week to prevent the yolk from sticking to the shell.
- Butter can be stored very well for 2-3 weeks in a container, as long as you make sure not to contaminate it with a dirty utensil. The same principle applies to mustard…
I don’t use butter for cooking; I replace its weight equivalent with 20 to 50% oil.
- Cheese can also be stored for several weeks, depending on the type of cheese and the climate. You can experiment, but either keep it sheltered from the sun but exposed to the wind behind a mosquito net to dry it (cheddar, gouda), or if it’s a fresh cheese, you can salt it a bit, roll it into a ball (with herbs), and submerge it in olive oil for several weeks. Some cheeses can also be stored in vegetable oil, but the oil tends to go rancid after a month and makes the cheese greasier when melted, so we do this less often. Also, when we run out of cheese after several weeks of isolation, we look forward to a break, and we know it will be a little treasure to savor at the next port.
- Milk can be purchased in UHT (ultra-high temperature) packaging; it can be stored without refrigeration. Or you can use powdered milk… If we run out of milk, we can make plant-based milk by blending soaked oat flakes and straining them.
- Yogurt can sometimes be found in UHT packaging in certain regions of the world, but it’s rare. If it’s fresh and unopened, it can be kept for about a week, and once opened, it can be used for 2-4 days. When it starts to turn slightly sour, I use it in bread or naan dough, as it makes it softer and lighter.
- Sparkling water, beer, and white wine : We don’t buy them. We drink them on occasion when we go ashore.
- For red meat and fish, either we eat them all or we dry them. We marinate them for a few minutes in vinegar with a pinch of salt and spices before hanging them in the wind. They will dry in 3-4 days if it doesn’t rain. We can eat them as is or rehydrate them.
This is just a brief summary of a fridge-free life, and it’s far from exhaustive. There are plenty of alternatives, such as using dried soy to imitate meat textures, lacto-fermentation for preservation, fermented beverages like “kôso” for carbonation, and so on.
Since I prefer being active in the kitchen rather than chatting on social media, I would say : “Come and live on Karaka for a while, and you’ll discover it all !“