How do Amish keep frozen food?

When we hit the dog days of summer, there are times I just feel like crawling into the freezer, closing the door and hanging out in there awhile (I guess I’d need a bigger freezer to make this dream happen).

Home freezers are another one of those once-luxuries, now-conveniences which we use, really 24/7, but tend to take for granted.  Not all Amish have such easy access to cooling technology.

Amish people keep food cold and frozen in a variety of ways.  In previous posts we have looked at Amish ice houses in New York, and an automated ice kiosk patronized by Amish in northern Indiana.

Some may also use freezer space provided by English neighbors.  Today a reader in Indiana tells the story of one such creative solution.


We had a neighbor come and ask if they could put a freezer inside our garage. I suggested that we put up an outdoor shed instead.  I spoke with the bishop and he said it was okay so long as it was on my property.

Amish Freezers

Three Amish neighbors put in approximately $650 each and we put in a little over $800.  We bought a shed from a storage barn builder who lives around the corner, rented a trencher and ran an underground electric cable from the service panel in my house out to the shed.  I purchased an electric usage meter on eBay which keeps track of electric consumption.  My neighbors consume approximately 3000 kw/hrs of electricity per year, costing them a combined total of $336.

Freezer Shed Electric Meter

The neighbors decided they would remove their existing phone shed out by the road, which was on my side of the property line anyway, and move it into the shed. Since the neighbors accidentally built their lane on my property when constructing their house, we were able to place the shed on my property but right beside the lane that runs to two Amish houses.  Phone sheds in our district must be located no closer than half the distance between the house and the road. This rule determined our placement of the freezer shed.

Amish Telephone Shed

Also attached is a picture of the taxi service provider sheet that they have tacked on the wall.

Phone Number List

We currently have three neighbors using the shed and I am about to allow another neighbor to use my share of the shed.  We just added a new freezer today, so soon we will have four Amish families using five freezers.

Amish Freezer Shed

Freezers at home are not allowed in our district, so most families rent a freezer from an English entrepreneur who lives south of us.  My shed is an exception which is allowed because it resides on my property.

Inside the shed they also have a 12v battery charger, an electric fence controller (ie. shocker), and a DC power supply for the neighbors backup power supply / radio unit that he uses while ultrasounding horses.

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    1. Al in Ky

      A very interesting report and photos. A creative way to keep
      church rules, while meeting food needs of the family. It somehow reminded me of growing up in Minnesota where we had very cold winters. We called our porch our “second refrigerator” in the wintertime. It was enclosed, but had no heat. If we had extra
      food we didn’t have room for in our refrigerator in the kitchen, we
      just put it out on the porch. I would think many Amish who live
      where there are cold winters do similar things.

    2. SharonR

      How Amish Keep Frozen Food

      Good article! This is another thing I’ve always wondered about, and now I have the answers……I knew they would get “creative” in keeping food from spoiling and still keep within their district rules. Makes perfect sense to me!

    3. Roberta

      I never asked but I assumed that the Amish did what we English used to do in the old days. In the winter, frozen food went out on the “sun porch” and in the summer Hank Piekarski delivered a block of ice to the house in his ice truck and put it in the ice box.

    4. Debbie H

      Maybe rethink this

      This along with some other creative ways of circumventing the church rules has always puzzled me. I can see the phone kiosk, it keeps from distracting. But this seems to be a necessity and I would think they would either stick to the old icehouse or change the rules to let them put in a shed on their property. They really are depending on the power company anyway, even though not on their land.

    5. Katie Troyer

      When I was a child there was a locker service in surrounding towns, but we never rented a locker. Instead we canned everything including meats and stored them in the basement. We also had a root cellar, where we stored root crops from the garden all winter long. There was no such thing as freezing our food.

    6. Annmarie

      I was thinking the along the same side as you, Debbie H. Then the more I pondered I thought maybe it is this way bc if the shed were on their property, perhaps the temptation to plug in with other gadgets would be too great. However, on your English neighbor’s property you might abide solely to the rule that it is only for a freezer….just my thoughts

      1. Debbie H

        Ann Marie

        You could be right. Never thought of it that way.

    7. Ice houses …one Family never has run out …..collects pond ice…..

    8. Juanita Cook

      Great article. I wondered how the Amish kept things frozen. I know that I have put extra food on in the garage in the winter months and it would freeze in there. I am glad they have a way to keep their food and everyone is happy with this kind of arrangement.

    9. Theresa F

      This is exactly what our Amish friends in Holmes County do. They have a combined freezer/phone shed. It is often a child’s job to go retrieve items from the freezer. It is also about half way down the lane from the house. Interesting!

    10. Alice Mary

      I’ve read of the freezer rental option, but not this freezer shed idea! How insightful of the Amish to adapt ways to both keep and (sort of) circumvent the Ordnung! Like when I visited Shipshewana and heard the story of the Rise ‘n’ Roll bakery, which outgrew its previous building–they needed to use electricity in their new bakery (the law), but it was against the Ordnung, so an Englisher bought the business, but kept all the Amish employees…so, electricity in an “English-owned” business is fine, and the Amish “just” run it! (As I type this, I’m salivating over some of the bakery goods I saw/bought there!)

      Back in our old house in Chicago, when I was growing up, we never had central heating (first, wood burning pot belly stove, then coal furnace, then natural gas space heaters). The closet/pantry off the kitchen was VERY cold in the winter, and that’s where Ma would often keep pots of her “chuck soup” (Dad’s favorite), leaving more space in the refrigerator. Now, in the suburbs, we use the garage for things like canned or bottled drinks, and occasional food items when it’s below freezing outdoors.

      I like the scribbled-on list of taxi drivers on the wall—I don’t think I ever took notes or made phone calls when I wasn’t scribbling/drawing on the nearest available piece of paper!

      Alice Mary

    11. Karen Pollard


      I have two questions:

      #1 I don’t understand the difference between having a freezer at your own home and putting it at someone else’s home. I thought the purpose was to not be dependent on the “electrical grid system,” but in no way does this accomplish that objective.
      Seems like many of the Amish find ways to bend the rules to their convenience.

      #2 The Amish homes I have been in had propane refrigerators. Are there no propane deep freezers??

      1. Matt from CT

        It’s not an aversion to electricity, it’s an aversion to the things that might come along with electricity — a radio or television which would expose them to more worldy things, and perhaps a bit of thrift since you won’t be paying for an air conditioner if you have no electric to begin with.

        Keeping the phones and freezers a distance from the house limits that.

        My understanding of propane freezers is they aren’t as efficient cooling as electric and are relatively expensive to run — figure about $45 per month per freezer in propane. Same size refrigerator uses half as much propane. How I read the article they’re running three electric freezers for $336/year, which would cost $1,620 if powered by propane.

    12. Carolyn B

      Community ownership

      I too liked the idea of combining the phone shed with the freezer shed. One question, why must an Englisher be the “primary” owner? I understand the Ordnung against personal/private ownership of electrical and luxury things but if a group of Amish families combined ownership,what’s the harm there?

      MAybe I’m still missing a key component re: the Ordnung. Thanks for any additional insights, AA community. 🙂

      1. Collective Amish ownership of technology?

        Carolyn that’s a good question…what you describe would still be crossing the historically important line of ownership, even if it were collectively owned by all in the church or by this group of 5 families. Once it’s owned by a group that could be easily whittled down over time to 4-3-2 and finally 1 family. And then you slide further down the slope.

        That said, there is some under-the-table Amish ownership of items that are not sanctioned to be officially owned. There are always people who will push the line and get away with what they can. Sometimes this is nipped in the bud and other times if it proliferates this can end up driving change in a church’s use of technology.

        1. Carolyn B


          Thanks, Erik, for the reply and very clear explanation of the slippery slope possibilities.

    13. Don Curtis

      Mark's freezer

      Well, I asked my son, Mark, about this issue. He has two propane refrigerators and each one have a freezer department. He also has a deep freeze in his cellar. His unit is about the size of those pictured. He told me that there are a couple of Amish manufacturers of propane deep freezes.

    14. Don Curtis

      Mark's freezer

      By-the-way, Mark’s deep freeze is relatively new. Maybe a couple of years old. His old unit came with the house when he bought it and finally gave out. Mark got some help and moved it out to the barn and now he stores horse feed in it and neither the mice nor the chickens can get to it.

    15. Don Curtis

      Mark's freezer

      I forgot to mention that Mark’s old freezer was a chest freezer.

    16. Don Curtis

      Mark's freezer

      During the winter time Mark told me that he often keeps food out on his screened in porch. Many of the Amish do. It’s not unusual to see a great big kettle of something out on Mark’s porch that was too big to go in the refrigerator.

    17. Barb

      Thank you for this article. It gives concrete examples that the commonly used statement “Amish don’t use electricity” is incorrect. And it illustrates how the Amish will “bend the rules” . Yes, I’ve known for a long time that the Amish will generate their own electricity so they can run things, including sewing machines. And the statement concept was that they could not hook up to the electric grid. This article shows how they are indeed hooking up to the electric grid. Thank you for sharing.Another romantic Amish myth shown to be incorrect.

      1. bending the rules

        Agree with Barb’s comment. So much seems to be written about how ingenious the Amish are. I don’t understand how they can justify some of their actions in circumventing their stated principles. Also, how can certain actions be perfectly acceptable under the thumb of one bishop and totally wrong under some other bishop and yet all are professing to be “Amish”?

    18. Anne, the mom!

      Ice House

      Our son built an ice house in Minnesota, where this approach works really well. This is a small square building, large enough to stand up in, lined with thick Styrofoam. He cuts huge blocks of ice out of the pond nearby (with help from neighbors; they do this once for everyone), and pulls them over to the ice house. The building is lined with these huge chunks of ice, and when he or Ruth need something, they just open the door, setting it quickly aside, and grab what they need. I don’t know when he’ll have to replenish it, but the last time he got ice was winter of 2011-12. The blocks were still huge when we visited last fall. Summers are so sort there, this is a good solution.

      1. Chris

        Good to hear from you!

        Hi Anne,

        I was glad to see your comment today on Ed and Ruth! I just sent Erik an e-mail yesterday about something else and asked him if he had heard from you recently. If you’ve posted any other comments recently I guess I’ve missed them. How are Ed, Ruth and the baby doing? I, and I’m sure others who are regulars here, would love to hear an update.

        1. OldKat

          Sure would

          “How are Ed, Ruth and the baby doing? I, and I’m sure others who are regulars here, would love to hear an update”

          I know this Old Kat would. I was wondering recently myself how they were doing.

          1. Lattice

            Lattice would like to know, too! Hopefully, no news is good news 🙂

    19. Propane or Kerosene Refridgeration Explained

      I actually service units that get cold or freeze by making heat.
      The first mechanical refridgeration was with amonia. It is used in Rv’s and propane or kerosene operated units. They are not as efficient when it comes to larger cubic feet required for a deep freezer. They do not “make cold” like a freon based system with compressor and electric to drive it. They only MOVE heat, so are called absorption type refridgeration. Pure liquid amonia when heated wants to stay hot, so it absorbs the heat from surrounding area. If you were to pour hot pure liquid amonia on the hood of your car, the hood would get cold around it absorbing the heat from the atmosphere trying to stay hot. We already have cold on the planet, all the heat we feel is from the sun, so removing the heat from an insulated box is already below zero! The amonia steam rises to the top from a boiler chamber and condenses into hot liquid on the back of the freezer section. This extracts heat from the insulated freezer box. Some heat absorbing properties are still available as it trickles down by gravity through the fridge coil section, to be reheated and rise as steam again. This is how to make cold with a lantern wick size flame or small LP gas burner. They even have a defrost cycle that dumps cool amonia into the burner chamber via a syphon as it slowly collects enough droplets in the “trap” reservoir of the system to syphon itself into the boiler. Taking time to bring back to a boil and start the steam cycle again.
      A larger freezer unit would require a freon compresser ran by a steam engine, wind or water wheel. These were the first commercial refridgeration and freezers. I’ve worked on a few of these old units and know a Mennonite welder that belts a generator to one for use in his commercial shop. He is one of the few that is certified to weld on pressure vessels (propane truck tanks) and steam traction engine boilers. You cannot recharge the sealed system of amonia if something goes wrong with it. The liquid can crystalize and become like little rocks if overheated, that cause blockages in the cooling unit. It is a dangerous and expensive procedure to refill and pressurize the unit. So cost is a major factor.

      1. OldKat

        Thank you

        I always wondered how those things worked. Now I know…I think! Been meaning to check your stove website out. This reminds me to do so.

        1. Anhydrous Ammonia to be exact;

          That’s the easiest way to explain it OldKat.
          Not to be confused with the cleaning solution that is 99% water. You can imagine what the pure chemical smells like. Released in the atmosphere it knocks you right out. It is better for the environment than freon. Looks like a bright yellow stain where it leaks out, and burns your eyes to tears handling a part that has had it evaporate on. It boils at -27 f. similar to liquid propane, so it is always above it’s boiling point most places on earth. So the vapor must be under pressure to be found in a liquid state. There are other chemicals added to the cooling solution to prevent caking in the closed system. These are the additives that cause crystalization. The heat generated to heat the solution as well as the heat removed from the insulated box is exhausted off the back of the unit or vented outside. The cooling process is much slower than freon, taking 12 to 24 hours to remove the heat. Food should be put in cold so the unit doesn’t have to remove this excess heat as well.

    20. MotherLodeBeth

      So one can use modern items as long as the item is not on ones own property.Interesting.

      Like someone who wont cook or eat meat at home but gladly accepts an offer for dinner at someones home they know will be serving meat.

      Or suggesting a white lie isn’t really a lie.

      Seems a tad dishonest.

      1. Are Amish being "dishonest" when they use technology?

        Beth and others who’ve raised the issue, these posts might give some helpful context:

        Use of technology is not so much a morality/hypocrisy issue as it is about using things you need selectively, but drawing lines to preserve the important things about family and community. Hence they end up with solutions that may seem funny or even like they’re circumventing the rules, at least to our eyes.

        Technology always tries to push its way in, but it’s generally carefully considered and taken seriously what a given church will allow. Not all Amish groups will agree with what other Amish groups permit, but they tend to respect the differences and still consider one another Amish as long as they keep key beliefs and practices like plain clothing and use of the horse and buggy.

        You’re not going to find a “pure” Amish people that uses no technology, even in the most conservative groups. In fact one can use certain “modern items” even when they are on the property.

        How Amish use technology is probably one of the 2 or 3 issues that most surprise or disappoint people learning about the Amish.

        There’s more explanation at those links, as well as in a number of non-fiction books on the Amish:

    21. Sandra Kathleen

      Although using the space for a phone shanty as well as a freezer storeroom is a creative way to “kill two birds with one stone,” using a freezer to preserve food that is out of season is not particularly energy-efficient. That said, I’m not sure how butchered meats and poultry would last without such a storage facility. I would think those with cell phones would also find outlets in the shanty that could be put to use charging them, as well….assuming that cell phones will be more permitted at some point.

      1. Matt from CT

        It’s not too bad — $336/year for three families, that’s less than $10/month. And these families tend to be both larger and consume more calories than typical American household.

        Meats can be canned. But its not like you’ll take something that has been canned and through it on the grill (though it makes good ingredients for soups and casseroles such).

        Freezing is a easier and a lot less time consuming than canning.

        “Water bath” canning that is suitable for a few things like jams, jellies, and pickles that are naturally resistant to rot is pretty easy to run as an assembly line as long as you keep the pot at a rolling boil. Remove one batch, pop in the next.

        My experience with pressure canning is it takes much longer — you may have to keep things at the designated pressure for 25 minutes…but it might take 15 minutes after closing the canner to get there, and another 15 minutes off heat to be able to unload.

        I can understand from a practical point when I read of some traditional communities who resist going to pressure canning and using the more traditional water baths still for stuff not recommended for it. I’m not saying all Amish don’t pressure can, but I know I’ve seen some who don’t and from a practical standpoint I understand their hesitance if they’ve never gotten sick from water bath canning. They would need to add several more stove burners and several more large canners to keep folks working efficiently compared to a single burner and water bath canner.

        I do pressure can a few things each year. I certainly don’t have an optimized setup. While I hope to make it a little bit efficient this year, for me to pressure can 9 pints of something it takes me three hours with an ordinary American kitchen — one hour of actual work preparing the food and sterilizing and filling jars, but two hours of waiting. I’m going to try using an outdoor propane burner this year in addition to my kitchen stove and I think that will cut out about an hour of waiting time.

        If I had a big enough freezer, I could keep on preparing and packaging the food instead of the two hours of downtime while waiting for jars to sterilize, then for the canner to go through it’s cycle.

    22. Anne, the mom!

      Ed and Ruth

      You all are very thoughtful to ask about this little family. Sorry I’ve not been able to participate in the blog for so long. I’ve never been so busy with my work (realtor) and the slump over the last few years has meant I can’t turn down anything 🙂

      We don’t hear much from Ed and Ruth these days as their days are so very busy. We did enjoy getting some pictures from a cousin of Ed’s who visited a couple of weeks ago. The photos of the huge garden, milking the cow, and some from inside the house, were a treasure to see. Unlike last year, they’ve had terrific rains, so it’s a more healthful and productive year for them. And we try not to mind the lack of communication, as they are so faithful to write the rest of the year. They too, have some catching up to do income wise, as last year was a disaster for this new Amish family from a financial point of view.

      We talked to Ed a few weeks ago and he told us baby Hughes is growing well, cutting lots of teeth, and seems quite content. Ruth has had severe dental problems, but through the winter, Ed researched natural remedies for stronger teeth, bones and hair, and they changed their diet as a result. He told us she is doing much better as a result. When we see them this fall we’ll learn more.

      We are planning a trip with them this October. We hope to meet in St. Louis and then drive together to Texas where we have lots of extended family. All of them are exited to meet baby and have a chance to get to know Ruth better. After seeing the family in Texas we’ll go to Taos, NM, where Ed grew up. Then on to Colorado where some of our dearest friends live. We’ll have about 10 days together and I’m sure they will be days we’ll always treasure.

      1. Great update Anne, we are always glad to hear any news from Ed and company. Sounds like a wonderful trip in store.

      2. Erin

        Thanks so much for the update Anne! I’ve been thinking about them and still am hopeful to meet them sometime this summer or early fall. We receive handwritten newsletters in our Amish CSA box each week and I know how busy they all must be tending to their gardens and fields.

        Your trip with them sounds amazing! I’m sure you’ll make wonderful memories together.

    23. Naomi Wilson

      Why criticize Amish use of technology?

      My reaction to reading through the above comments:
      The Amish way of life is based on hundreds of years of interpreting and applying scripture, such as the order to be nonconformed to the world. There are no verses in the Bible (to my knowledge) on limiting technology. They are Christian. Not a bunch of non-electric hippies. It strikes me as hypocritical for any non Amish person to accuse them of bending the rules, or living white lies.

    24. Sandra Kathleen

      I think the misconception I have had is that Amish want to live “off the grid” because they do not want to be dependent on energy provided by outside sources. It’s a stance which I have considered impossible as long as they use any resource available because of the use of electricity: e.g., tires, metal, cloth, thread, lumber, nails, tools, glass, jars, etc., etc., etc.

      The belief (myth?) I held, however, did not articulate the underlying principles behind the careful use of the proscription — that of protection against the fullest use of the energy source (electricity) in such a way that it would interfere with the customs that developed because of their faith and community. Through this blog, I’ve come to have a deeper understanding of the reasons for rules that had seemed somewhat arbitrary and conflicting.

    25. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      I can’t help but wonder if this is where the use of small scale solar panels might be practical for the Amish, never mind eliminating horses in front of buggies, they could have small solar panels on top of a shed to power their freezer and refrigerator units if they have them.

      I still think of a documentary I saw on an Old Order Mennonite family in Ontario who owned a fridge but somehow ran it minimally, I seem to recall the father figure on a rolling office chair sliding between the dinner table and the opened, lit up fridge to grab some more food at dinner, in a darkened kitchen dinning room, in this film. That would be a waste of energy in any circumstance or faith, but to each his own I suppose. I think this family also used it for light, at least during the night time, winter perhaps, meal.

      1. ShipshewanaIndiana

        At least in the district I “live in,” this is my freezer shed in the pictures, the Amish wouldn’t be allowed to have a freezer anywhere on the property even if it were stored outside in a shed and run by solar. They are allowed to have refrigerators with a small freezer box attached to the unit, but not a large stand alone freezer. Its a strange paradox, they can own a LP refrigerator/freezer unit but not a stand alone LP freezer. Freezers are hard to run on solar due to power consumption, some companies like Sundanzer make efficient freezer units specifically designed for solar applications. I don’t know of any Amish here using them, although I’d guess someone is using one. Last year I helped someone from Parke County, Indiana move into the area. He had a large HEAVY stainless steel chest freezer that he said was run by an air compressor. The individual was originally from Mifflin County so perhaps the unit came from Big Valley. I have never seen anything like it!

    26. Connie Bush

      Amazing Information!

      As I selfishly stood in my kitchen looking at my broken kitchen aide mixer. I consumed my thoughts with how will I properly mix my dough for bread. As if I didn’t have a loaf above me in the cabinet. To which lead my thoughts to the wonderful Amish ladies. Who somehow, keep a perfect house. Cook for large families and do this all without worrying about their kitchen aide mixer, getting their nails fixed, or worrying about their roots showing before they can get into the salon. So, I found myself googling. Trying to find out how these wonderful women would go about picking up their scattered bread dough and making something edible out of what seemed like a life shattering altercation of my evening plans. And WOW! I found the most amazing group of writers. And loving people that supported the wonderful Amish people around the globe. You dear people woke me up! I had surely forgotten the hard labor of love they provide for their families every day. I can say that if an Amish family needed to build a cold storage shed on my property, I would absolutely nail in the first board. I can only imagine the lessons of humility, love, and bread making skills I could learn!

      I Will continue to read and be amazed at the wonderful life stories you each share here. Thank You for opening the eyes of this cattle raising woman. Connie