I Tried Using the Polar Vortex as a Fridge

©. Ilana Strauss

I've heard about electricity-free alternatives to fridges and decided to test one out.

I was tasked with making dinner for my coop on Wednesday and decided to bake a few quiches. Normally, I like to shop for big meals on the same day I cook to keep everything fresh. But the polar vortex was coming to Chicago on Wednesday, and I knew grocery stores might be closed. So I bought ingredients on Tuesday and swiftly ran into another problem: the fridge was full of other people's food.

It was cold out — colder than it's been in decades — and the weather gave me an idea. Why not use the cold as a natural fridge?

It would be -15 degrees Fahrenheit outside, -50 with windchill, which was far too cold for a fridge. And indoors was practically balmy. But there was an entryway between the outdoors and indoors that was chilly, but not freezing, and I figured it'd make a decent fridge. I patted myself on the back for my brilliant idea and left my groceries there overnight.

The next day, when I was about to cook, I grabbed the food to discover ... everything was frozen. The tomatoes and peppers were hard as wood. The apple cider was one giant popsicle. The eggs held up the best — those shells are surprisingly effective — but even they had turned to slush.

polar vortex cider

© Ilana Strauss

I tossed everything in warm water and cooked the quiche. It was an hour late, and my roommates sacrificed me to the food gods to make the oven cook faster. Yes, you are reading an article written by a ghost. No, I don't do autographs.

So the brilliant plan was a disaster. Still, the whole thing opened my mind to new possibilities. I've always had access to a fridge and freezer, and I never really considered that I could chill food other ways. I knew about cellars only as some sort of historical fact.

polar vortex quiche

© Ilana Strauss

But really, there are many ways to preserve food without electricity. If it's winter, or even fall, the outdoors can be its own fridge or freezer. Basements can work too. When I was in Morocco, people would keep vegetables under clay pots.

I guess the lesson here is, you can totally use the outdoors as a fridge or freezer. Just make sure you figure out which one first.