Keeping Things Tasty—Tips For Food Storage (With No Refrigeration) & Meal Preparation

13- Use---Homemade raisin bread
Homemade raisin bread.

Imagine being safely tucked into a tiny little anchorage in Chile with four shorelines holding you snugly beneath the granite cliffs. And imagine being stuck down below for three days of rain, cold, and williwaws that make the boat shudder against her lines. Consider that you are about two months south of your last grocery store and unlikely to provision again for at least another month. Sounds miserable, right?

Now what if I told you that I woke up on that third morning to a freshly brewed cup of coffee and the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls cooking in the oven? And perhaps the best part is that this was not at all exceptional; the night before we had eaten homemade lentil stew with carrots, onions and ham.

My family likes to eat well. We spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing delicious meals. Breaking bread together, literally and figuratively, has been an important part of our three-year expedition on Sila.

Living Without Refrigeration

However, despite our interest in good food, we opted to forego refrigeration when we built Sila, in a bid to keep the boat as simple as possible.

At first we expended a lot of time and energy getting ice for the icebox but, over time, we learned to embrace life without refrigeration and adapted our food purchases and meal planning accordingly:

Molly and Christopher Barnes, and their two boys Porter and Jack, have just completed a 36,000-mile circumnavigation of South America in their Boréal 47, Sila, including cruising South Georgia—one of the toughest cruising grounds in the world. Molly is the co-founder of an academic and wilderness school, an ultra runner, and an expert on motivating young people to find their own inspiration in adventure.

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Marc Dacey

Well written, thank you. Even if you have refrigeration, it can break or otherwise be impractical if you are on an energy budget and let’s face it, all but the big Grunert reefers fill up quickly, so even adapting just some of these methods make for a win.

Rob Gill

Hi Molly – really inspiring!
We are going offshore without a generator and to save power the top loading freezer will be our fridge. So everything you have shared is absolutely brilliant, even if we can keep things cold (once opened) for a few days.
We are limited in storage space, so like you we are considering dried foods and have started experimenting already at home. Dried potato flakes make amazing mash/hash/savoury cakes and act as an easy to add thickener in stews and paste/pate. Dried vegetables especially tomatoes (better not in oil) can be used in all manner of dishes. In Asian food stores we have found kilo bags of dried mushrooms. Dried fruits too (especially citrus) are really excellent to liven up dishes like a tagine or risotto.
I have just read an interesting article about de-hydrating fruits and veggies. Apparently you don’t need to buy a fancy gadget – just use the home oven on its lowest “fan forced” setting with the oven door cracked open. Takes about 6-8 hours per oven batch depending on water content (over-night was suggested as you wake up to delicious aromas). Wire racks above the oven trays will improve air circulation and reduce drying time. We are going to experiment and will report back if there is any interest out there?
Oven drying is not something for “on board” use obviously, but perhaps sun-drying on-deck would work using oven racks – has anyone tried to do this?
Molly, what is the best use of the dried fish you mention – do you have a favourite recipe?
Dried milk powder is great but we prefer “light” milk powder in tea, coffee and cereal as it doesn’t have that “fatty” after-taste. Hadn’t thought about needing full-fat milk powder though for baking – does it make a difference? Have you tried cooking with commercial grade egg powder for dishes like quiche, frittata, omelettes or even scrambled egg?
We haven’t tried making bread yet (still 6 months to go) – would Jack divulge his secret recipe? Those brown loaves look better than bought ones! We have a “to-die-for”, one-pot, one stir, risotto recipe to trade.
One last question sorry, how much cooking gas do you use each month on average?
Best regards,
Rob

Christopher Barnes

Rob,

Christopher here (Molly’s husband) After a year of tracking we narrowed down our propane use (by weighing and recording propane tanks) – in cold and wet weather when cooking a lot we initially planned on 0.33 kg of propane per day for a crew of 5 and never ran out. Reality is that we use less than 0.25kg/day and towards the end of our multi-year adventure that was enough even in cold weather BUT in cold weather when we have the heat on (Refleks diesel heater) we always have a full kettle of hot water that carries some of the cooking demand. All to say 0.25kg/day for 4-5 people (0.55lbs/day). We did find that filled/full tanks varied a lot – hence the big fish scale to weight them (and find the tare weight) was very helpful. Of course, your mileage will vary depending on cooking style… in cold remote places we baked a lot in our rather inefficient oven, in the tropics it often felt like the propane tanks lasted forever…

Marc Dacey

Now, that is solid data I can use, thank you, given two adults and a male teen is probably equal to two adults and two kids. Also, props for using “tare weight”, not a term one sees every day in our modern world!

Rob Gill

Thanks Christopher, great info and metric too!
Rob

Molly Barnes

Rob,

I am glad you found the article helpful. I know I was happy to learn a few of those tricks as we went along. Let me see if I can address some of your questions.

We also use potatoes flakes in all the ways you describe, plus they are relatively easy to find in many different countries that we have visited.

Dried vegetables- I am a big fan of tomatoes and also spinach flakes, which you can buy in the U.S at least. We used the spinach in soups and on pizza the most. It is a really nice way to feel like you are eating greens long after fresh ones were gone.

Dried fruit- delicious addition to our snack cabinet and also to curries and other dishes. But it can be very expensive in different parts of the world.

I have dehydrated fruit and vegetables when living on land but never tried it on Sila. In part, the places we like to sail tend to have more rain and clouds, but even so I have a hard time imagining getting items dry enough on deck using the sun alone. I have heard about solar dehydrators from other cruisers but have never tried one.

We did not eat dried fish so much as salt cod. After soaking it for a couple of days and changing the water multiple times, we would use it in chowder or in a baked cod, tomato and peppers casserole.

I had used egg powder on backpacking trips in the Wind River Range in Wyoming and did not love it for anything other than bread so we stuck with using real eggs on Sila. That said, I have met people who swear by them.

I think the powdered eggs are a great reminder that with food in particular, tastes vary greatly. I hope all the readers of my articles realize that I am presenting one way of provisioning and one approach that worked well for us- but it is by no means the only or the best approach.

Cheers and bon appetit!

Rob Gill

Thanks so much for the replies Molly
Rob

Noel Grant

Didn’t think it was possible to go without refrigeration. The article has certainly opened up my thinking on that one…… and with some great tips on food storage.

Henrik Johnsen

On our trips to Svalbard, we haven’t been able to get fresh food for 4-6 weeks. We’ve had great success conserving meat and vegetables by dehumidify it before we leave our homeport. Putting the different goods in daily portion size vacuum bags, makes it very easy to store and use. Since the food are dry and packed in vacuum bags, it don´t need to be stored in a cold place.
The meat is cut in to small paces and lightly fried before put in the dehumidifier.
When it comes to prepare a meal, the suggested portion is put in a box where water is added and put away for some hours before cooking. The vegetables are crisp and the meat very tasty, ready to be used in stews, pizza, soups or what ever you like.

Rob Gill

Hi Henrik,
Interesting ideas on de-humidifying meat which I hadn’t considered – strange since that is what jerky/biltong is! A few questions if I may:
Which meats do you find work best?
Are there any meats you wouldn’t use – chicken/turkey comes to mind?
Have you tried it with raw meat/fish (not frying first) like with jerky?
Do you salt the meat at all?
We will be in the South Pacific where sea temperatures average between 22 and 28 degrees centigrade, depending on date and location. I am guessing you may have it a little colder – would you still dry pack meat with these temperatures and if so how long do you think it might last from your experience?
thanks,
Rob

Henrik Johnsen

Hi Rob

We use all kind of lean, low fat meat like pork, beef and in particular caribou meat, which is very low on fat and have a great taste. Chicken breast has been successful, but we haven´t tried chicken thigh. We don´t have any experience with turkey. When it comes to fish we are lucky to have easy access to dry cod, which is used making Baccalao.
The vegetables with most success are red peppers, squash, carrot, onion, spring onion, fennel and mushrooms, but virtually the sky will be the limit. Just try out what you like the most.
We have no experience storing food in high temperature as you mentioned. In our area the sea temperature makes the lower part of the hull, under the floor, a giant fridge.
If the drying proses have been done properly and the foods are packed in vacuum bags, we think it should be possible to carry it in warmer climate.
In fact we found a bag of chicken meat, which was a leftover in the boat for nearly 2(!) years, and has spent the last 6 months in room temperature down in the basement. We gave it a chance, and after some hours in a water filled box it smells nicely and the taste (we just tested a small peace each) is absolutely ok.

Rob Gill

Thanks Henrik, great stuff. Tasty protein will be our limitation food wise and so we will experiment for sure – I think your last comment “whether it smells right” is probably the key – the nose is a very sensitive instrument!
best regards
Rob

Richard Dykiel

Thanks for the useful tips. I have to confess that before reading your post I didn’t know what a ‘pressed paperboard’ was. Can you provide details on how you package the eggs? Seems like risky business to me 🙂

Molly Barnes

Hi Richard,

I don’t know if “pressed paperboard” is the correct term, but I thought it described the flats reasonably well. I am sure you have seen them. They tend to be squares that holds 6×6 eggs and they are made of what I think of as classic egg carton material, or pressed paperboard. The key is that they are not styrofoam or plastic.

I will typically have one 6×6 egg flat on the bottom, the eggs, and then another flat on top to sandwich them. I then take plastic wrap and go around it in one direction several times- leaving the other two ends open to the air. I have found that open to the air makes them last a little longer and I have had less trouble with mold on the egg shells.

Then the eggs are a self-contained unit that is easy to flip every few days and you can sneak a few eggs out of the edge without opening the whole thing. I then make sure everyone on board knows which cabinet they are in so that no one “shoves” other items in that locker. I hope that helps to clarify.

Cheers,
Molly

Richard Dykiel

Ah now I see; you must mean those cardboard-like things they use to sell eggs in bulk. Already pre-formed for eggs. I was confused by the word “flat” 🙂 Thanks for the idea, eggs are a great cruising staple for me, and you give an enlightening example of how to feed a family without refrigeration.

Clive Arnold

Hi rob,
On “Earrame” cruising South Australia, Tasmania, NSW and Queensland last couple of years we find we get at least 6 weeks from a 9kg gas (propane) bottle and we do cook and bake quite a lot…..there’s always cake !
Are you in Aus?
Rgds, Clive

Rob Gill

Thanks Clive – good info. We are in NZ heading off next season in “Bonnie Lass”.
Cheers
Rob

Robert Hellier

I know that to have glass containers on board is a big no-no for many sailors but I know a couple who cruise extensively who use Mason jars to store pre-cooked meals like stews and soups. As anyone who has used Mason jars to preserve jam, etc, they are extremely tough and have great, easy to use, re-usable sealed lids. And they come in a nice range of sizes from 125 ml, 250 ml and up. A meal in a mason jar can easily be placed into a pot of boiling water to cook the contents without transferring to another dish or plate, which saves washing up. No worries about the temperature shock breaking the jar because they’re designed to be dropped into boiling water as that’s how you sterilize them before putting the food in them. This couple generally cooks fresh whenever they can but when the seaway is rough and they want to minimize time in the galley, this makes for a very quick and easy hot meal.

Rob Gill

Thanks for sharing this idea – we used to bottle seasonal fruit and make preserves every summer being dollar poor and time rich! Do you happen to know how long they keep their meals for un-refrigerated? And whether they do so through the tropics, or just in temperate climes? The reason I ask is when we “bottled” there was usually a good amount of preservative involved like salt, sugar or vinegar.
Rob

Marc Dacey

I think if stowed in a fitted box with silicone spacers (cardboard would get damp), Mason jars can be made further boat-proof. Short of a complete capsize (the fitted box has a securable lid, perhaps?), I can’t see a problem.

Matt Chauvel

Hi all, thanks for bearing with me, I just feel like sharing a kind-of-on-topic memory…18 November 2014 was so far the only time I’ve been told off on the VHF, cruising down the Southern Chilean canals, as I was a little bit too excited accepting a dinner invitation from Molly should we end up anchoring in the same spot that night (which we did, in Puerto Mayne — as per my notes, “both anchored in Puerto Mayne, Patagonia Cruising Bible ref 6.28, excellent shelter, plenty of room to drag, no need for shorelines, fresh water lake in hiking range”). I hogged channel 16 for a moment thanking Molly, was brought to order quickly by a Navimag captain (in the middle of nowhere, hadn’t expected anyone else to be in range at that point), but Oscar and I were rewarded later on with a deep dish pizza dinner aboard Sila…bottom line, whatever Molly writes about provisioning, storing and cooking, among everything else she chooses to share, you need to read, trust me (ahem) !!

Marc Dacey

While on an RYA course in Brittany, I was struck by both the rarity and professional brevity of calls on Ch. 16 in French coastal waters. I did not, until I heard a securite call, realize the VHF had been on since we had cast off in the morning. It was a huge contrast to the typical free-for-all on North American VHF frequencies.

David McGinnis

This is off subject, but I just wanted to let you know that our daughter completed HMI Semester 40 last spring. It was a life changing experience! Thank you for your work in creating this invaluable learning environment!

Dave McGinnis