Monday, October 13, 2014

Practicing what I preach.... my fridge died.

I've lived most of my adult life without refrigeration.  But a few years ago we added a few more solar panels to our small array and decided we had enough to run a small energy-efficient refrigerator.  We bought a 10-cubic foot refrigerator from Home Depot, and we put it on a shaded porch where it would be out of the sun during the day, and during our cold Montana nights (even in summer), it wouldn't run much after dark when it would only have the power from our battery bank after the sun went down. 

Just took this picture, with the flash since it's dark outside.  This is the fridge that just
died.  That's a magnet on the freezer door, from the sporting goods store.

We had some problems at first since it didn't like our inverter. My husband could talk at length about different inverters and sine waves and modified sine waves and so forth, and about the electronics on newer appliances and how delicate they are.  The bottom line for me was that we needed a different inverter.  A neighbor had just replaced theirs with a bigger one and the older one was the right kind of "waves" that my husband thought would work better for the refrigerator.

He rewired our solar power system and put the refrigerator and a few other things on that inverter, and left the rest of the house on our old inverter.  All went well for a few years.

I thought in the back of the mind that milk wasn't staying as cold lately as it should be.  Friday I went to put something in the littler freezer and I thought "huh, some of this stuff doesn't feel that solid", so I turned the freezer up a little bit. 

The next day, Saturday, we went to town in the morning and among other errands we picked up groceries.  When we got home and I went to put the food away, the first thing I did was open the freezer to put in the bags of frozen mixed vegetables I'd just bought.  It was barely cool in there and everything was partially thawed.  I opened the fridge compartment and felt the milk carton.  It wasn't very cold either.

My husband put a thermometer in the fridge and in the freezer.  He tried a few other things, such as unplugging it for a while, then plugging it back in.  He pulled out the manual and went through the trouble-shooting section.

I pulled out canning jars and got busy.  I started with all the meat, vegetables, and broth that I had stored in the freezer.

Here's the jars on the counter, and a pan (right) with the bags of meat and bags of vegetables.
I had just chopped up an onion and distributed it among the jars.
I added vegetables, meat, fettucine noodles, and salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and a bit of powdered dried spinach.  Then I rain it through the pressure canner.
Then I lined a cake pan lid with parchment paper and spread sour cream on it to dry.
I lined some dehydrator sheets with parchment paper and spread cottage cheese on them.
In the upper left corner you can see shelf brackets where I have two of the drying pans sitting.  The top one is the cake pan lid with the sour cream on it.  The bottom one is cottage cheese.  This is behind our woodstove. That cement board on top of cement blocks leaning against the log wall is to keep our log wall from getting too hot.  The black thing running up the right side of the picture is our stove pipe.  Food dries quickly there behind the woodstove.
The other sheets of cottage cheese are in the oven drying.  We have a propane range with a pilot light in the oven, and it keeps it warm and dry in the oven.
One of our sons gave us a small fridge his father-in-law had picked up at a yard sale for $20.  It's just a little square cube, but it holds a couple gallons of milk, the cheese and butter, and a few packages of meat that I stuffed in it's little (and already frosty) freezer. 
It's also out on the porch and not running much with our 35 degree nights and 50-ish days.  Not all small fridges are low-watt but fortunately this one is only 135 watts.  We plan to have it emptied and shut off in a couple weeks.  We don't have enough solar over the winter, and by then "nature's refrigerator" has kicked in up here in cold country.
I had just stocked up on butter and cheddar cheese because they finally ran a good sale.  I had planned to freeze the extra pounds of butter, and use up the 2-lb. block of cheese before it got too old.  But now I've rounded up several half-pint jars and I'm going to can up the butter and cheese in those jars tomorrow.  Fortunately the ketchup, mayo, parmesan cheese, and eggs are keeping just fine in the little cooler.  I open it at night and set everything out on the table on the porch so the cold nights chill it good.  First thing in the morning I set it back in the cooler and close it, and set it on the floor with a blanket around it for insulation. 
We'll wait until spring to decide if we want to try a refrigerator again.  Propane refrigerators are expensive and way out of reach for us.  So it would have to be a small, energy-efficient fridge again.  But we might have the same problem again with the electronics being fried by the variances in voltage and sine waves and other issues that come with a solar power system.
But that doesn't bother me.  After all, life without refrigeration has been the norm for me for years, and besides...I wrote the book on "Life Without Refrigeration"! 
Hmmm... some humor... I guess like a bake sale to raise money, I could put my book link here and raise money for a new refrigerator!  Might have enough by spring!  :D
Please leave questions or comments below or email them to me at:
 Here's the dehydrated cottage cheese after it dried.  It crumbled into pieces, which I crumbled further and put in a pint jar.  The 16-oz. carton of cottage cheese that I dried ended with a little over half of a pint jar of dried cottage cheese.  It only took over night to dry, but I ended up leaving it on the racks until late afternoon because I was busy. 
To re-hydrate it I put some of the dried cottage cheese in a bowl and add a little water and keep stirring and mashing at it with a spoon until it's creamy and mixed.  It's not as tasty at 'room temperature' so you can mix up a small bowl and set it in the fridge to chill if you want.
The sour cream came out well too.  It's like dried white frosting in texture and appearance.  It rehydrates well, just like the cottage cheese.  A bit in a bowl and keep adding a few drops of water at a time until it's the consistency you want.


  1. I was wondering if you had a fridge in your RV? If you do, you might be able to use it as well.

    1. There is a fridge in the camper but the propane is empty. We're trying to pare it all down anyway so we can unplug even this little fridge by the first of November. We don't have enough solar this far north to run a fridge in the winter. We go south after Christmas for a few months and stay in the camper out in the desert with two solar panels for power. We can run the fridge then, since it's a lot sunnier down there, and in the end of December there is an hour and a half more sunlight in southern Nevada than there is in Montana. We also have cloudy winters in Montana, which makes it worse!

      But thank you for the suggestion! If this had been earlier in the year, such as back in the summer, it would have been a great option for us!


  2. Hey, Susan, just read about this on Grit. Wondering how your cottage cheese and sour cream turned out, never tried drying them. Am living in a tiny trailer with a tiny fridge right now and being able to dry cottage cheese might come in quite handy.

    Robyn (Mrs. D)

    1. Robyn, I don't see a way to attach a picture here on the reply, so I'm going to go in to "edit" on this above post and put the picture at the end for you, of the dried cottage cheese.


  3. Susan, wow! I am going to have to try this, now, thanks.

    Robyn (Mrs. D)

  4. Wow!!I didn't know you could dry sour cream and cottage cheese. I just recently learned about dehydrating milk. So cool!! Going to try it. My kids are human food pits and my budget is not cutting it!