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Meal in the middle of nowhere

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I'm off to Maine for 10 days, to an island with virtually no electricity or contact with the rest of the world. There is something of a small refrigerator, and a wood burning oven and a couple of gas burners. I've been told to not expect much temperature control. There will 14 of us. I'll be responsible for dinner on one of the nights. All shopping will have to be done ahead of time.

The ideal meal would be delicious, manageable with the rudimentary stove, and not too heavy on ingredients that need refrigeration.

Any brilliant ideas?

Notes from the underbelly

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One of my standbys is what I call "pantry pasta". Jarred artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, oil-cured olives & a bit of capers, fresh or canned tomatoes, garlic. My method is to warm the garlic & olive oil while the pasta is cooking, add all the chopped ingredients and warm them up, then toss in the drained pasta and heat together so it all comes together. If you think you can keep proteins cold, either shrimp or Italian sausage work well. And maybe you or someone could bring a small potted basil (most grocery stores sell them in the tomato section) so you can throw some of that in as well.

If the gas burners aren't very strong, you could actually do this on top of the wood stove, or at least cook the pasta on there.

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Sounds like an incredible place!

I'd normally recommend collecting mussels at low tide, which should be possible on just about any Maine island. But a Google seems to indicate that a red tide alert currently exists from NH to the Canadian border, in which case you should definitely not.

Second the lobster recommendation - they're trading at historically low prices these days, and you can buy them at your last port and transport them in floating perforated crates (the lobsterman will generally supply these to you so long as you return them on your way home). I'd get enough for two meals (28-56 lobsters depending on appetites) and prepare them two ways. You can keep the crates floating off your dock or beach, secured with a good rope in the latter case and taking account of the tide of course.

A good lobsterman should be able to supply you with peekytoe crabs as well, which will also keep live in crates... I'd recommend a separate crate from the lobster ones though. Be ready to do a lot of picking work.

There will be periwinkles everywhere if you have mussels anywhere near. Delicious, though for 14 people you're gonna need a ton. Can be eaten raw or steamed with some white wine and garlic. You will need small picks to get them out.

(You don't have to worry about red tide with lobster, crab or periwinkles.)

With luck your island will be rich with blueberries, raspberries or blackberries depending on which weeks of the summer you are there, as well as beach tomatoes (rugosa hips). One of the best things about a Maine summer is what you can forage. There may even be wild asparagus, though probably too late in the season for it to be tender.

Finally, of perishable proteins, beef keeps the best - bring a ton of dry-aged steaks and grill them up on the first or second evening!

For the rest of your meals, I see a lot of legumes, salads and fruit in your future, unless you can make the dry ice work... have an amazing time.

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Don't forget that there are a wide variety of foods available in aseptic, shelf stable packages that do not need refrigeration -and taste better than canned goods.

That said, I'd get some fruits and vegetables that do not need refrigeration, take a look at what the grocery store doesn't refrigerate: potatoes, onions, shallots, tomatoes, avocados, lots of fruits, and if seafood is involved, citrus fruits. Get a ton of lemons.

Bring some live herbs in soil. Look for that lettuce that's alive. Both can just be out and growing til needed.

Don't forget to bring dry spices, salt, and some sort of fat like a bottle of olive oil.

Virgina ham might be a good option, it takes a while to cook but needs no refrigeration.

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Jumping back in - cheeses! Very happy at 55 degrees (happier than in the fridge). Probably true of many other European foods... salamis, prosciutto etc. And I've done well with real Virginian hams in Maine summers (and actually it doesn't need to be cooked if you don't want to do so).

Edited by patrickamory (log)
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I lived in a caravan with no electricity for six months, and kept perishables fresh by putting them in a box of water and lying a wet towel over the top. You have to submerge the end of the towel in the water so that as the water from the towel evaporates, taking heat out of the food, more can be absorbed.

Some groceries you could take:

Dried coconut/tins of coconut milk

Dried beans (red lentils cook quickest)/tinned beans

Shelf-stable tofu

Rice/dried noodles/couscous/bulghur wheat

Dried fruit

Apples/unripe fruit and vegetables (will ripen in the heat and won't go rotten so quickly) as well as potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, onions, garlic, carrots

Coffee and tea

UHT milk and cream (Doesn't need refrigerating until opened - I used to use the smallest 250ml cartons so I could open just a bit at a time)

Sun-dried tomatoes/olives/dried mushrooms

Tinned tomatoes/corn

Anchovies/sardines in oil

Flour/vinegar/oil/stock cubes

Any dried herbs and spices

Liquid egg cartons


Long-life fruit juice

Beer, wine and spirits :smile:

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For meals you could make:

Indian or Thai curry with rice

Bean chilli with cornbread, biscuits and/or baked potatoes


Potato hash with eggs

Pasta Puttanesca

Leek and potato soup

Fried polenta with roasted root vegetables

Tabbouleh, ful medames, hummus and pita bread

Salad of green lentils, grated carrots and radishes

Moroccan stew with couscous

Black bean soup

Stewed apples

Gnocchi with sage oil

You could even bake a cake.

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I admit in advance I have never attempted something exactly like this, but I have bits of experience that I think would work. I am quite envious of your opportunity.

First, I am nearly certain that you can take anything frozen and have it stay safe, if not rock solid frozen, for 10 days using a marine cooler rated 5 or 6 days. Like this one


I am sure you can get cheaper at one of those big outdoors stores or a marine store.

These things are designed to keep ice on a boat (no shade, direct sun) for their rated time. From experience, they work if you use them according to the instructions. I put ice in one on my back deck (lots of sun) in around 85 degree heat and it kept ice for 6 days. The ice was still loose at the end, meaning it hadn't even thawed enough to form blocks. Keeping stuff below 35 in the shade and at cooler temps should be easy. You might ask on a boating or camping forum. Below refrigerator temp for 10 days is what I think would be the goal. I frequently have frozen game meats shipped to me, and the companies have all said the meat is safe even if it has thawed but remains below 35. They use less insulated packing, and I once had one be delayed to 3 days with no problem.

The coolers tend to be large, but if your friends also put their stuff in, it might not take much extra room.

From here, one thing you might consider is the principles of sous vide (yes! Every thread can involve sous vide). In particular, you can cook a fantastic meal before you leave, freeze in ziplocs, and then reheat in hot water when you are ready to eat. Lots of threads on this. I have done this for large parties, and there was very little loss of quality. You might want to take extra ziplocs in case the freezing or transporting makes holes in the bags. I repack everything just in case. You have a stove, so hot water should not be a problem. You can even use the cooler as a sous vide vessel if necessary.

A solution to uneven heat is cast iron (not enameled AFAIK). I cook frequently in my outdoor fireplace. As I understand (it works even if I do not!) the cooking is done by the black cast iron absorbing radiant heat, and then transferring that heat somewhat evenly over the whole pot. So beans, greens, etc. I cook by putting the pot near the coals depending on the heat level, and then I stir semi frequently. Roasts and stuff not easily stirred I rotate the pot. I've had no problems with uneven cooking this way. I have no experience with a wood oven. I'd be tempted to cook over an open fire anyway because of the effect fire has on people and the ambience.

Also borrowing from sous vide, you could cook meat, etc., to temp in advance, freeze, reheat, and then sear over coals. I guess on the burners too, but that seems wrong given the setting.

I've done things like this, just not for 10 days. Keeping things cold is the only thing I am not sure about, but I am confident it can be done. Have fun!

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A decent size dutch oven , briquettes and a a print out of a briquette chart will give you a way to have consistent long cooking temps. good for stews or even baking simple breads and cakes.


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"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

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~Martin :)

I just don't want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it!


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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for all the advice, everyone.

The trip was amazing. We stayed in an old house that used to belong to the painter Fairfield Porter (my friend's grandfather) and his brother Eliot, the photographer. Kitchen facilities were less rustic than promised: a pair of propane fridges, a propane cooktop with three burners, and a giant old wood-burning range.

We ended up making two pasta dishes, one with assorted dry mushrooms, and one with a tomato sauce made with steamer clams we harvested from the beach. The clam sauce was great for the experience and tasted pretty good, but the mushrooms (dry porcinis, black trumpets, and morrels from NYC) stole the show.

We also had some sauteed veggies and ice cream made with rosemary, basil, and thyme from my garden. The house had those ice cream-making soccer balls that you load up with ice and rock salt and give to people to kick around until everything's frozen. Amazingly, the things actually work. The freezers weren't cold enough to actually harden the ice cream, but it was still delicious glopped on top of sliced strawberries.

Another highlight of the trip was local lobsters, which gave me the chance to anesthetize them with clove oil, according to Dave Arnold's methodology. After trying this once, I will never kill lobsters another way.

Notes from the underbelly

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