How do the Amish, who generally don't have electricity, keep food cold? This is a good question. We covered the topic of the Amish and electricity here. But the whole question of how the Amish refrigerate foods so that potato salad doesn't go bad is an interesting one.
🧊 Refrigeration and the Amish
Refrigeration is one area that, over the years the Amish have made a lot of allowances. While electricity is still generally frowned upon, in the interest of food safety and storage many Amish settlements now allow solar or gas-powered fridges. So, how do the Amish keep food cold?
The issue of keeping food cold is especially important for the Amish during sweltering summers when 90 degree weather can quickly turn fresh meat into rotting meat or transform a potato salad into a biological weapon. All of this raises the question of how do the Amish keep their food cold? The question isn't quite as acute during the winter months, but summer is a different issue.
There are all sorts of answers to this question depending on the Amish community. In places like Grabill, Indiana, there are solar-powered fridges and like the above photo, there are ice machines centrally located so that the Amish families can pay, grab-and go bags of ice. Often when you drive through an Amish community and see solar panels they are being used to power items like freezers.
I've also been into many Amish root cellars and basements that are quite cool and would definitely prolong the life of some foods. If food is stored and kept in glass jars, the coolness really seems to last.
🧊 Refrigeration and the Amish
Refrigeration is one area that, over the years the Amish have made a lot of allowances. While electricity is still generally frowned upon, in the interest of food safety and storage many Amish settlements now allow solar or gas-powered fridges.
❄️ How Do The Amish Keep Food Cold?
Solar or gas refrigerators simplify the food storage process much more for Amish families. Thirty years or more ago most Amish families relied on cool cellars or ice houses to keep food chilled. Amish would cut blocks or chunks of ice from frozen ponds in the winter and use them to fill ice houses which would keep food cool or frozen most of the year. Tons of ice can be harvested from a medium-sized pond for all the Amsih in a settlement to use. The harvest ice "party" becomes a big event with many families gathering by a cold pond in January or February to start carving out the blocks. This is just another tradition within the Amish lifestyle and culture.
The men will usually do the harvesting while the Amish women make sure they are fed. And the Amish women will
To be sure, using ice boxes is still practiced in many of the most conservative communities (and even some more progressive ones, like Lindsay, Ontario, a more liberal one). Cold storage is only an issue there for a few months a year before the Canadian winter takes over.
Yes! I have been to Amish ice houses and even during summer - months after they were filled with blocks of nice, they are still filled with ice blocks. Putting food in there and shutting the door will quickly freeze items. It's an issue of quantity, they load up a relatively small, insulated space with so many ice blocks that the ice creates its own climate.
Years ago if you didn't have a cellar some Amish would have to be extra creative and do things like storing food in a cool creek or slicing a big barrel in half, fashioning a lid, and burying the barrel half so that it was in the cool ground. This would at least keep milk from souring for a full day.
🌊 A Chilling Spring
I visited the home of an Amish bishop once and saw a very innovative way to chill food. This was a log home on a mountainside that featured an ice, cold alpine stream that actually is channeled into and through the house. While the stream is in the house it is corralled into a stone trough that serves as a "chilling bath" for perishables that need to be kept cold but not frozen. WOW, I love my Cokes ice-chilled to the point where they are super cold but not frozen. This stream would be amazing for keeping Coke cool!
SIGH, I refrigerate a lot of stuff. Maybe stuff I am not even supposed to. I love cold food. I'll stick leftover cake or cookies in the fridge ("but that dries it out" is a common refrain from my wife)....I like my fruit cold: apples, oranges, bananas.
When I was a child and we traveled frequently one of my "worst memories" was of being in Italy (I'm sure this is custom in other countries too) and being served glasses of warm milk for breakfast. Ugh, no thanks. I even like to put jars of peanut butter in the fridge. Anyone else out there refrigerate stuff that maybe shouldn't be?
💰 Do The Amish Rent Refrigerators and Freezers?
In some more conservative Amish communities that haven't yet embraced solar or gas, there's another option: renting. Yes, in the Berne, Indiana Amish community (and I am sure in others), you'll see small outbuildings sprinkled throughout. The buildings are owned by non-Amish entrepreneurs who fill the building with floor-model freezers and then rent them out to Amish families.
This solves the issue of staying off the electric grid while still adhering to safe food storage and best practices. These little freezer buildings may also have a telephone in them that allows pay calls and perhaps even ane electrical outlet or two for an Amish person to charge a cell phone.
So when it comes to the Amish and refrigeration, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, but there is a lot of creativity. The Amish do not frown on coming up with creative solutions. Among the most conservative Amish settlements without access to some of the hacks above, they'll simply split a barrel in half, bury it in the ground, and fashion a lid. Milk, cheese,and mayo can keep stored in a place like that to keep it from spoiling as fast.
Prior to the Geneva, Indiana community allowing freezer rentals, I would take Amish friends into town to buy ice blocks from a vendor. We would carry these suit-cased size blocks of ice with a pair of metal tongs. The ice would then be stored in ice chests in a person's cellar and food could be frozen quite well in those chests. With the approval of freezer rental I am sure that ice vendor is now out of business.
In more southern Amish settlements where frozen ponds during the winter are a rarity the Amish rely on either church-approved gas-powered refrigerators or buying blocks of nice from a vendor and storing them in ice chests. The ice blocks do a pretty good job at freezing food although sometimes ice cream gets a little soupy in storage.