Monday, February 27, 2012

Cold Storage

One of the advantages of winter in Finland is the deep freeze that exists right outside your door.  Not everyone would really see this as a plus, but it does occasionally have its uses, at least for storing food.  For example, once a winter my wife makes sure we carry all our frozen food outside and stack it on the porch while we defrost the freezer. 

That’s not all we use the “walk out” freezer for.  It’s great for all that excess Christmas food that won’t fit in the fridge, not to mention the occasional over-sized pot of soup.  We regularly cook salmon soup, or the equally Finnish “hotdog” soup, in batches big enough to last for two or three meals, which makes it hard to find room for it in the refrigerator.  That’s not a problem during the approximately five months of icebox-like weather.  We just keep the soup outside on the porch, bringing it in to thaw out as needed. 

A few weeks ago, however, we had to rethink the “porch fridge”.  I started to put a fresh batch of soup out for the night, when I remembered that it was something like -25 (-13F) outside.  Needless to say, turning a tasty meal of potatoes, carrots and sliced hotdogs into a solid block of ice heavy enough to have its own gravity would be overkill in the food preservation department. 

Faced with this realization, I came up with the bright idea of using the eteinen.  This extremely common “room” in Finnish houses is unknown in America, at least in the south, where I’m from.  Eteinen translates into English as “vestibule”, but I like to think of it as an “airlock”.  It’s basically a closet-sized space between a house’s front door and an inner door that leads to the rest of the house.  The idea is that when someone enters a house only one of the two doors is opened at a time, so that the warm, cozy interior is never directly exposed to the unforgiving elements outside.  It’s also a good place to store boots. 

And, in our case, soup.  We haven’t heated our tiny eteinen since we added an extension on our house and started using a different front door.  Nowadays, the eteinen doesn’t stay nearly as warm as the rest of the house.  As it turns out, when it’s -25 outside, inside our vestibule it’s only about nine degrees (50F), not hugely warmer than our fridge. 

While I thought my idea of using the eteinen as a poor man’s icebox was a stroke of genius, to my wife it was perfectly obvious.  In fact, it’s a variation of something she grew up with   the kylmäkomero.  This literally means “cold closet”, and it is, literally, a cold closet.  A kylmäkomero was an otherwise normal closet, with a pipe connecting it to the outside, keeping it cooler than the rest of the house.  When my wife first came to study in Helsinki, kylmäkomerot were still being used in the 60s-era dormitory where she lived. 

Kylmäkomerot might sound primitive now, and I wouldn't want to rely on them for keeping my beer cold.  But, like the root cellars that were traditionally part of every Finnish house in the past, cold closets were a practical, low-tech way of making use of one resource Finns always have plenty of this time of the year – cold air.  

Our pot of soup on the porch.


  1. Anything that saves energy is a good idea. I reckon you could get away with this kind of architecture in Alaska.

  2. I have a friend in Vermont who hates the sound of a refrigerator so much that he actually doesn't have one at all. In winter he keeps perishables out on his porch and in summer he keeps a cooler in the kitchen that he fills with ice bought at the gas station. The cooler might work depending on what you need the fridge for. If you're renting a room in a house, you could use the owner's fridge to freeze those little cooler blocks, which will keep a good well-insulated cooler cold for a couple of days before you need to freeze them again.