Fridge-Free Food Follow-Up
PS readers offer up a smörgasbord of ideas about food that isn't picky about temperature.
Three months ago, in the March 2003 issue, we did an article about foods that need no refrigeration. It was uncharacteristic of the magazine, in that it didn't involve any testing (except for some highly unqualified taste-testing). But the impetus for it was all PS: We wanted to remind ourselves and our readers that refrigeration systems are not required on boats. It's true that they "come standard" on many boats now, and that they're everywhere, and taken for granted, just as plastic fast-food outlets are everywhere and taken for granted. And just as a great number of people living within striking distance of a Mcdonalds or Burger King or Subway become at least a little reliant (especially if they have kids and a busy schedule) a great number of sailors are reliant on refrigeration—especially sailors who have come to the sport since refrigeration made its debut on small boats.
It's all part of the landscape, but there's a price to pay when a strip mall with your choice of convenient fast-food eateries springs up where an orchard or hay field used to be, and there's a price for keeping your lunch meat cold on board a sailing boat with a 12-volt system. "Quality of life" issues swing both ways.
Refrigeration was one of the things that boat marketers in the early '80s pushed hard, in order to try to make boats feel just like home. But of all the systems that have been introduced to boats in the last half-century, including radar and pressure water, refrigeration has, we think, been the most demanding, day in, day out. It wants more engine and alternator power, and larger battery banks. It wants more holes in the boat, and more wires. It wants space. In harbors that otherwise might be peaceful, it demands the running of engines at sunset and at sunrise and many points in between.
In return for all that, it does keep beer and lunch meat cold—quite reliably, according to our recent survey. And now that it's only one part of a dense electrical and electronic landscape on board so many boats, this power-hungry culprit doesn't even stand out of the rabble. The whole landscape, or gizmoscape, demands ever-greater charging capacities and diverts the attention of the boatowner from what's outside the boat to what's inside.
Que sera, sera, but we don't have to sell refrigerators, and can repeat our opinion: It's fine if you want it, but don't assume that you must have it. There are strings attached.
That opinion, and the fridge-free food article, generated quite a few practical letters in response. We thought we'd collect a few of those letters and print them here.
Your article on Fridge-Free Foods in the March issue was a good discussion of various foodstuffs forproviding cruising cuisine. Another product that I would like to recommend is Textured Vegetable Protein —TVP. As the name suggests, this is protein derived from soybeans. This dry, grain-colored product is available in several sizes. We find the roughly pea-sized version the most useful. TVP's strength lies in its nutritional value as a meat substitute and ability to take on the flavors it is associated with. An example would be to mix some TVP with some beef bouillon and water—instant hamburger! Mixed with one of the "helper" products, it is indistinguishable from the real thing.
My wife and I discovered this product on our backpacking honeymoon. Backpacking has many of thesame refrigeration requirements as cruising with the additional requirement of minimum weight. TVP, with a little imagination, is a very palatable and highly nutritious substitute for meat. It stores dry indefinitely and is readily available in grocery and health food stores.
Colorado Springs, CO
As a vegetarian and a cruiser, I have a double interest in dry meat substitutesmade of textured vegetable protein (TVP). One company, Good Taste Vege Foods Import, 204 Delancey Street, NYC 10002, 212/353-9779, makesover a half-dozen such products, in sizes, shapes and consistencies ranging from ground meat to lamb cubes. Either they or other companies also make TVP disguised as crab, fish, and scallops, too. I do my shopping for all of these at a friendly, helpful little Asian/vegetarian grocery store, VegeCyber, Inc., 210 Centre Street, New York, NY 10013, 212/625-3980.
These TVP products are dry, light weight, high in protein, easy to store for months, and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways.
To prepare, you just soak the product in a small amount of water for about 1/2 hour, then cook as you would a meat or seafood product. (I avoid using too much water so I don't have to drain off flavor and nutrition or waste fresh water.)
After rehydrating the TVP meat substitute, I simmer some in spaghetti sauce and serve on pasta. Others, I simmer with garlic and onions with a bit of sesame oil and serve over rice. Still others I saute with vegetables and ginger. The ginger has the added benefit of calming uneasy stomachs in rolling seas, and the vegetables can include beansprouts grown on board.
Sometimes I add dehydrated mushrooms, available from the same grocery store, during the soakingstep. All the ingredients I just mentioned are easily stored for long periods, easy to cook in a short time, and offer enough permutations and combinations to provide variety for a long passage.
OK, I admit that dry TVP products may not be quite the same as fresh food. If you think of them only as meat substitutes, they might seem like mediocre imitations. But if you think of them as their own kind of food, instead of imitations of something else, they are varied and tasty enough to keep you interested for quite a while. For a vegetarian cruiser like me, vegetable sources of protein are the only alternative, even when meat is available. But once my carnivorous friends try TVP, they often enjoy it for its own qualities.
TVP ® is a registered trademark of the Archer Daniels Midland Company.
I've sailed to Europe and back on a small ice-box (about 1 cubic foot of space). (The original one was a joke—in lieu of the 3 inches of polyurethane announced in the owners' manual, there was 1 inch of Styropor.)
Since I don't like cooking, I had loaded up on freeze-dried food, but the restricted choice in the one-person serving (only Italian and Oriental) had me pretty annoyed.
When I arrived in Brest, I discovered the French plats préparés pour une personne (prepared meals for one person). The first one I got was a "paella valenciana," which came in a big sardine tin-like can. The instructions said to put it in a pan of boiling water and let it heat up for 10-12 minutes, then pass it under cold water for a few seconds (to prevent splashing), then open and put on a plate.
I used salt water for the heating and left the pan filled; when I had finished eating I just put a little detergent on the plate and poured the salt water over it. Dishes done!
During my trip down to the Med, I found these dishes in every grocery, supermarket, hypermarket (as the French call the really big ones) and stocked up on a whole variety going from Greek moussaka to cassoulet toulousain, through a variety of French dishes.
I started back across the Atlantic with more than 60 cans and 13 different recipes. Contrary to freeze-dried foods, the water is included, so that the only extra weight is that of the aluminum can. I've also found them at the supermarket in St. Pierre (near Newfoundland) and I'm sure they are available in Martinique and Guadeloupe. For me, they are the #1 for the non-cooking singlehander.
I've never bothered making milk from powder—I just add a spoonful to my cup of coffee. That way, I don't have to worry about milk going bad.
After some seven years living-aboard, fridgeless, in the tropics, I can add a few tips. US foods are often made with refrigeration in mind and cannot survive outside it. This is not the case overseas, where items like cheese and margarine are OK, if not better, unrefrigerated. Hard cheese will often keep a long time, and this can be extended by wrapping it in a vinegar-soaked cloth. Most fruit and vegetables, especially if they have never been refrigerated, will keep better unrefrigerated, whether ashore or afloat. Many items unnecessarily refrigerated include mayonnaise, which will keep for months after opening as long as the utensil for removing it is clean.
Eggs that have never been refrigerated and kept dry will last up totwo months (don't wash them). Everywhere outside the USA has full or part-skimmed powdered milk (e.g.Nido) of excellent quality (it makes very good yogurt without theneed to boil).
Freeze-dried veggies are available in Europe and other places, and are much better than canned. Soy protein "meat analogues" of various kinds are available in many places, and keep forever. We are still using some of the best, three years after purchase in Panama.
We dry some fruits and vegetables (especially nutritious are tomatoes), and we bottle fresh-caught fish that are too big for one sitting ( in jars in the pressure cooker, 20 minutes.).They will keep for a month or so and if they don't it will be pretty obvious!
The biggest problem with being fridgeless is what to do with leftovers.
A nice article on fridge-free foods for those of us who prefer to keep their boats simple.
A comment on cheeses. Last summer, three of us sailed on a 32-foot boat from Norfolk, VA to Hamburg, Germany. We took about 20 lbs. of various hard cheeses, which we had asked the dealer to vacuum-pack for us in chunks of about 1/2 lb. or so. With stops in the Azores and Falmouth, we were away for 44 days, and the cheese and I were en route for another seven before that. Only one of the packets of cheese had grown any mold, I suspect due to a faulty vacuum-seal. Apart from being warmer than straight out of the fridge, the cheese was perfect.
St. Andrews, NB, Canada
I love living at least half of each year on our vintage (read "old") Irwin 37. I also love cooking. So, I read your recent "Fridge-free Foods" article with great interest. Even though our dear old boat has excellent refrigeration, it is mainly reserved for the really important things—cold beer and white wine (what luxuries!) and condiments that need refrigeration after being opened. As a result, I put a great deal of thought into what we stock, because fridge-free foods are so important.
I want to tell your readers about malanga, a delicious root vegetable with a shelf-life that is nothing short of miraculous. Malanga looks like a yam, with a dark brown, hairy bark on it. It is a staple of Cuban cuisine and is widely available in South Florida, Mexico, Belize (where it is called Coco) and Guatemala. With so many Central Americans living in the US, it is likely more widely distributed here than I realize.
Cook malanga just as you would boiled potatoes: Peel it, cut it into uniform chunks, and boil it until tender. After it's done, drizzle it with olive oil or butter, sprinkle on some salt and, if you have it, squeeze on some fresh lime juice. You may mash it down on your plate with your fork before seasoning it, but don't try to mash it like potatoes—it turns gluey.
Here's the miraculous part. We noticed that the malanga kept perfectly for at least a month, hanging in a gear net. Once, when buying it at the farmer's market in Belize City, I mentioned to the proprietress of a vegetable stand how impressed we were with its keeping properties. She replied, "Oh, honey, it'll keep for nine months, as long as the skin don't be broke!"
My husband/captain took that as a challenge. We used four pieces of malanga as test subjects. After six months, one had desiccated and shriveled. After nine months, we cut one in half and it still looked perfect. After 18 months we cooked the remaining two. Admittedly, they did not taste as fresh as they might have, but they were still tasty, and we lived to tell.
Another long-storing all-star is butternut squash. Again, as long as the skin is not damaged, it will keep for months, even in a tropical climate. Don't ignore the other tropical root vegetables like yucca (a.k.a. cassava), boniato, and ñamé. They don't keep as well as malanga (what does?) but they are delicious, and a good break from potatoes or rice.
We find that a hanging gear net stores vegetables better than any other method. Cabbage even keeps very well hanging in a net. Don't cut away the outer leaves. Pull them out but not off. Cut off as much cabbage as you want, then wrap the outer leaves back around the head. If the cut edge looks black the next time you want to use it, it's harmless—just cut it off.
I find that the most important factor in being a good galley cook is to approach the job with no preconceived notions. Many recipes can be adapted to use long-storing ingredients. The recipes off the backs of cans and packages often need little adjustment. Keep an open mind, keep trying new things, and have fun with it.
In my eight years of cruising I, along with many others, I'm sure, haveneglected to mark the date of food containers and not known whichcan or box to use first. We now mark each acquired item quickly with afelt marker with the approximate number of the month. To avoid confusion between new and year-old items, we use only even numbers for 2002, 2004, etc. and only odd numbers for 2003, 2005, etc. (After two years, rust, dirt, or soggy paper usually provide additional decoding information.) It's easy, and keeps the stock "rotated."
I found some good tips in your article on Fridge-Free Foods, and want to add another source of tasty, easy meals that keep without refrigeration—military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). If you are remembering old-style field rations, think again.
We like to take our Compac 16 into the interior of Everglades National Park for 10-12 days at a time. Obviously, a boat this size has weight and space limitations, therefore we have no icebox, a one-burner propane stove, and limited fresh water.
The MREs provide a main meal. Inside the waterproof exterior pouch of each MRE will be sealed plastic containers of a main dish, a side dish, dessert, crackers and spread, instant coffee, beverage powder, condiments, spoon, napkin, etc. An optional, one-use chemical heater activates with a few tablespoons of water (and then becomes a nice hand or foot warmer). The meals are varied and good-tasting, with minimum expenditure of water and fuel. Except where weight is the primary criterion, MREs beat dehydrated food in every category, especially taste.
They do generate a quantity of cardboard and plastic trash. We solve that by taking along large, wide-mouth liquid detergent bottles and stuffing all trash into the bottles using the handle of a rubber mallet. We get all of our trash for 2-3 days into one bottle. Cap it and stow until your return to port.
Deluxe MREs are available from outlets like Brigade Quartermaster (800/338-4327, www.actiongear.com). The current catalog lists a case of 12 for about $60. The chemical heaters are available separately from the same source, or the sealed entrees can be placed in hot water if circumstances allow.
Stone Mountain, GA