Is your fridge big enough?

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

"The appliance they illustrated the rule with was so comically clean and colour-coordinated, you wonder who can live – and shop and cook and clean – like that." Dale Berning Sawa - The Guardian


When I lived in England, fridges were small enough to fit under bench tops. Like a modern bar fridge. Well, yes I know, it's cold in England - you don't need one. Indeed my grandmother did not have one. I remember that, in the summer she used to keep her milk in a bucket of cold water in the shade. She also had a wire fronted 'cool' cupboard I seem to remember in which the butter was stored. Before my mother had a fridge - she didn't always have one - she stored 'fridge things' in a stone walled pantry with only a tiny window set high up in the wall. It was a cool place I suppose. And I'm guessing that Australians did the same.


Anyway by the time we came to Australia in 1969, the Australians mostly had what seemed to me to be enormous fridges. I scoffed that they were unnecessary. What would you put in them? The Australians only put beer in them didn't they? And why would you put beer in the fridge anyway?


Nevertheless we needed a fridge, for the milk and the butter and cheese, so we bought an enormous - to us - two door fridge. One of those with a small freezer compartment at the top. I mean what would you put in a freezer? Ice-cream was the only thing we could think of. At the time we were living in a tiny flat on Waverley Road in Chadstone, and the fridge, once installed dominated our tiny all-in-one kitchen/dining/lounge room. We were building our first dream home though, so we put up with the inconvenience of breathing in every time we went past it to get into the kitchen.


Then we discovered a few very Australian uses for fridges and freezers. You could buy a whole side of lamb for 16c a kilo! Now how on earth could you resist such a bargain? And how is it indeed that lamb chops now cost $42.00 in the supermarket? A topic for a future post perhaps. Anyway we enthusiastically and regularly would buy a whole side of lamb from Prahran market, or, later on, from the supermarket - yes you could buy it there too. Indeed some of it - the scrag end of neck and the bony bit of the breast did not yield a lot of meat, but you could make stock and soup and maybe even a stew from them. I had been brought up with such things so knew what to do with them. And a side of lamb filled up our small freezer compartment. Well there might have been just enough room for some ice cream too.


Back then we also did most of our meat shopping at Prahran market which was cheap back then - not like the gourmet yuppie haven it is today. So we would buy a tray of meat when the butchers were selling it off at closing time, and quickly realised we needed a freezer to store it all. Indeed fairly rapidly it became clear that our 'huge' fridge/freezer was really not big enough, so eventually we swapped it in for a separate freezer and fridge.


Then a Hungarian immigrant friend said that you just had to put oranges and apples into the fridge because they tasted so much better. Now here I am sure there are dissenters. In my 'research' for this article I see that there quite a lot of people who said not to put fruit in the fridge - but I think this didn't really apply to apples and oranges. In our household, David prefers his apples and oranges at room temperature, but I have to say I like them cold - grapes too.


Then there was that beer. David didn't really drink beer. He still doesn't drink a lot, but I doubt if either of us would like warm beer now. I mean it really shouldn't be drunk warm should it? And back in the day when we first came to Australia we were young and sociable and people would drop by so you need to have a beer in the fridge to offer them. Now you need a bottle or two of wine as well as the craft beer and cider.


But let's jump to the present. I'm writing about this because a couple of times recently I have almost had the Christmas fridge crisis. Well one was Easter, so that's a bit understandable, and it passed - and besides we have an 'emergency' extra fridge up in the Gatehouse. The other was last night when I had to do a bit of judicious juggling so that I could fit in the soup that I had made for my book group lunch today. The cake just had to sit in the microwave overnight. The picture at the top of the page is of my not very organised but very full fridge this morning.


It is sort of wintry weather at the moment, and it would probably have been alright to leave the soup out overnight, but in the summer this would not have been a good thing to do. It sometimes gets very hot. Food can go off.


We have as big a fridge/freezer as will fit in the space available but it never seems big enough. However, I do consider myself a bit of a master at fitting one more thing in, which is really what I was going to write about. Because it's like any kind of space isn't it? No matter how big it is a space tends to get filled up. Most people do not like empty spaces, or can't resist filling them anyway. Even I. I confess I do like empty visible spaces - table tops, bench tops, desks ... David, on the other hand, cannot resist filling them which can sometimes be frustrating for both of us. I do like cupboards and shelves though and I will definitely fill these. And the fridge is an example.


So I had a look at what people had to say about full fridges. I found a lot of 'how to' up your game on fridge organisation, but nobody seemed game to say it was all just impossible. I even found this series of diagrams purporting to show how your fridge reflected your personality from Westinghouse. When you look at them closely though - click on each one to get a bigger view - you will see that really it's just an ad for their fridges.

As far as stacking the fridge goes, I think I probably fall into their Creative personality - which is very flattering. Which, of course, is what is intended. But it didn't help me much.


I did learn a few things about fridge organisation though in my brief perusal of some of the articles I found. The main thing, and one which has often bothered me, was to find the ideal fridge temperature. I have often thought my fridge is too cold. Some things freeze or almost freeze in there. The other day, having followed the advice to store fresh ginger in water in a jar in the fridge, I found the water had frozen, expanded and shattered the base of the jar from the jar. Fortunately not too much water in the fridge because it was, of course, frozen. Anyway this should not have happened. And indeed the fridge has been too cold - well the general opinion seems to be somewhere between 3 and 5 degrees depending on how full it is. So I shall be setting mine at 4 from now on, maybe even 5 because it was at 3 when it all froze. Indeed I have changed it to 4 now and then, but for some reason my fridge keeps reverting to 3. I should dig out the instructions and see what I'm doing wrong.


I also learnt that you shouldn't keep milk and dairy in the door because this is the warmest part of the fridge. This is where you should keep your jars. And I used to do this until David told me not to because they were too heavy for the door and were pushing it down. Mmm. Anyway most of my condiment kind of things are now on the top shelf. The next warmest place.


Tall things at the back small at the front so that you can see what's there. Yes there may be things lurking in there - as in my pantry - which should really be thrown out. 'The Organisers' recommend that you start here. Empty everything and throw away stuff. Things to be used first at the front. One even recommended pulling out the fridge and vacuuming out the cavity and the back of the fridge. Mm. That happens when we move house or buy a new fridge.


Label everything with an expiry date. Well I'm not a fan of expiry dates, as I reckon that most of them are over cautious. I reckon if it doesn't smell or look mouldy then it's probably OK. And according to some you can even use sour milk for baking anyway. The labelling thing was varied - write a list on your fridge door, write a list on the fridge wall with a texta that you can wipe off, keep a file and update it regularly ... Really?


Put things in containers and stack them. Well I do sort of do that, and here I would thoroughly recommend Aldi's egg container - it holds 14 eggs - which is very convenient, is just the right depth to fit on a shelf and has a lid so that the eggs don't become contaminated with odours of other foods, and moreover you can stack things on top. Mind you the gurus, would say you shouldn't put eggs in the fridge anyway. Nor should you put bread in there. Serious Eats did an experiment to find out where to keep your bread and came to the conclusion that the freezer was best - though obviously you would have to then thaw it before eating. Next best was wrapped in plastic or foil at room temperature. That's what they say. I doubt that we shall stop storing it in the fridge though. I think we both think that it stays fresher in there. Besides it can always be toasted or turned into breadcrumbs.


Containers are good, and I do put a lot of my leftovers into pyrex containers that stack, but they can't all be the same size because you don't have the same quantity to store every time. And what about all those jars? Here I have to say I really should reorganise and put them back in the door, because really they fit better there. At least some of them. I have to put jars on top of jars in the fridge and that is always fraught with danger.


Below are some examples of 'perfectly organised' fridges - and these were some of the better ones - in the sense that there was quite a lot in the fridge and there were a few odd shaped jars. Not many though. Most of the pictures I saw were either stacked almost entirely with cans of drink, or were half empty. Narrow shelves might look good but unless they pull out how do you get to the back of them without taking everything out first? No - mostly unrealistic?

I'm actually quite happy with my fridge most of the time, but I probably should have a clean out. In fact I know I should clean out my vegetable drawer. I'm pretty aware of what is in there, and not anything going off, but it does need a clean. And the lovely David did clean out the entire fridge just the other day. One 'tip' for this was to line the shelves with paper towels, so that you actually didn't need to clean the shelves if there was a spillage. All you had to do was throw out the paper towels. It sounds a bit over the top but is probably quite a good idea. I might try that.


So what do you do? What is your fridge like? Are you Conscious and committed, creative, a people pleaser or a socialite?

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