Until I was about ten, we had no fridge in our house. And again, when I got married, we couldn’t afford one, so we did without for the first four or five years. And this was in blazing hot Gujarat. Now we have come full circle. Our farm is off the grid and we don’t have enough roof for enough solar panels to power a fridge, so we manage without. This time around, you could say it’s a voluntary deprivation. So first I’ll explain our reasons and the advantages of not having a fridge, then I’ll share some tips on how to manage.
Our first reason for not getting a fridge is just plain cussed: because we can! I’ve always hated to be dependent on technology and excessive comfort. Something spartan in my upbringing, I guess. Anyway, the party of the second part feels the same way, which is lucky. So when we built Anilodharani, we decided we’d have enough panels to power our borewell pump (which is at present our only source of water), and lights and fans in the house. No heavy duty appliances, so no fridge, mixer-grinder, or washing machine. No microwave, heaven forbid! I don’t even have one in my city home. We can charge a laptop and mobile phones, and run a TV. However we don’t have a TV or fans yet. Maybe we will when we retire and live there most of the year.
The other reasons for not having a fridge are mostly to do with convenience. Yes, really! It is so convenient not to have one more gadget to look after, clean and maintain. It’s so convenient to cook just enough, eat fresh, and clear up everything at the end of the day. It’s so convenient not to have a power-guzzling monster occupying valuable floor space. It’s convenient not to worry about the wretched thing being stolen or misused when you are away most of the time. Yes, it’s great not to have a fridge! That said, I do have a sort of ‘fridge’; and this is it.
I won’t pretend there aren’t times when we crave something cold enough to freeze our teeth off. But we make do with cooling foods. More of that below. And there are times when we have too much food and it’s difficult to preserve. But there are ways of doing it. We’ve also found that if we can get through the two months of real heat, April and May, we don’t miss having a fan the rest of the year. And that’s mainly what this post is about: tips and tricks of getting through the heat, most of which was common practice fifty years ago.
- Cook the right amount. I generally try to cook enough for two consecutive meals, because I want to spend more time outdoors, less in the kitchen. When it works, this system works great! And it’s quite fun to mix up menus and have dal-chawal for breakfast, idli for lunch, or oats for dinner. But it’s an art I’m still mastering – we do occasionally come a little too close to either starvation or bursting.
- Stand all leftovers in a deep dish of water as soon as they’ve completely cooled down. Parked in water, cooked food will easily last 12 hours, even on the hottest day, without spoiling. This also keeps your food out of reach of ants. My fridge above works on this principle. We got it made a few months ago, of aluminium and steel mesh. The shelves are plastic office trays filled a couple of inches deep with water. (I’ve been trying to get mud trays made, this would probably be at least 5 degrees cooler. But apparently it’s just too large for clay. Every potter I’ve spoken to said it couldn’t be done; one tried and it broke while being fired. But I have some ideas about getting around this, and haven’t given up yet.)
- Wrap vegetables in a damp cloth. Keep fruits in an airy basket in the coolest place you can find. If you have a bunch of dhania or palak, stick it in a glass of water with the roots intact. Cutting off the roots first may seem cleaner, but it will rot much more quickly.
- Use clay pots wherever you can. Water from a clay pot is the coldest and most delicious. You can also put your fruits and vegetables in clay pots to keep them fresh longer. The only trouble with this is that it occupies a lot of space.
- Don’t buy large quantities of these perishables at a time. And if you have a kitchen garden, you can get by without having to worry about storage at all. Let the plant store it for you!
- Milk should be kept in water too. Like cooked food, it will last about 12 hours. After this, it’s best to turn it into curd or paneer. While paneer has to be used up in a day or two, curd (yogurt) will keep for days. However, it sours very quickly in hot weather. So either use it up in a few hours, or make a dilute lassi with the sour curd. Just beat it up with salt or sugar, and add lots of water to it. Perk it it with roasted jeera powder or chaat masala, or for an authentic south Indian mor, add salt, a pinch of asafoetida, curry leaves and a little grated ginger. Delicious and so cooling! This is supposed to be one of Lord Rama’s favourite dishes and is always made on Rama Navami, his birthday. There are also local recipes in every part of the country using sour curd. Some of our favourites are mor kozhambu or kadhi, mor kali, kanjeevaram idli, khandvi and handvo.
- Eat lots of fruits and drink lots of water.
- Like I said earlier, convert everything into cool drinks, and keep guzzling all day. Fruit juices, buttermilk, panagam. Panagam is another Rama Navami must-have. It is just a dilute lime juice, sweetened with jaggery and flavoured with cardamom. For best results, make a clay pot full and dip into it all day.
- Lie on the floor. I relearn this art from our dog every summer. It’s several degrees cooler on the floor than on your bed. Honest! And on the hottest days, pour water on the floor before you lie on it. Pretend it’s a swimming pool!
- If you can, stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, say from 11 am to 4 pm. Draw your curtains and darken the rooms at this time, the dark feels cooler. Throw everything open that can be opened in the evening to catch the breeze.
- Have cold baths, morning and evening.
- Spend as much time as you can outdoors, morning and evening. In our farm we dare not go out at night for fear of elephants, but it’s wonderful to be on the terrace.
- Be calm. Easier said than done, but try! It really helps you stay cool.