By Dick Eussen Keeping your icebox or esky in top working order is not straightforward and needs a certain amount of planning if you want ice (and more importantly) the contents to last longer. Dick Eussen explains how to avoid the soggy sanga syndrome.
Okay, I have done it and so have many others. You know the drill — after a long drive to the billabong you are hungry and look forward to a ham and tomato sandwich, only to discover it is waterlogged and swimming around in the bottom of the esky. Keeping things cool and in order is not as simple as tossing in a bag full of ice and adding the food. There is an art in keeping food and drinks cool and loading the icebox so that it performs as intended. When travelling, I use an Engel fridge for perishable foods, in partnership with an Engel 98 litre icebox. When properly loaded with ice and food the icebox will last for a week and possible longer, though I have not pushed it beyond that point. The Engel Ultra cool iceboxes are available from 240 down to 67 litre sizes.
The Engel iceboxes are insulated with polyurethane housed in a fibreglass shell. These iceboxes are easy to clean and keep clean, dry ice compatible, and the inner and outer surfaces won’t take stains or odours as they can’t penetrate.
An icebox is a must in my fishing boat. It will keep drinks and food cool and a big one like the Engel 98 is ideal to cool big barramundi down after bleeding. The fish can then be cleaned at leisure instead of filleted in the boat to allow them to fit them into a small esky.
Cold As Ice The first step in making ice last longer is to buy or make it at least 10 days before a trip. Store it in a deep freezer. This ages and hardens it. Block or crushed ice endures longer when frozen for long periods.
Block ice is best to take bush. Layer the bottom of the icebox with whole blocks of ice, place pre-cooled drinks and food on the layer and next add more block or crushed ice to fill the box. Ensure that perishable foods are either in containers or in sealed plastic bags. Special baskets are available from camping and portable fridge and icebox outlets.
Vegetables burn when placed directly on ice but a layer of newspaper, or wrap, prevents this. Wrap frozen meat, frozen vegetables, and other frozen goods with damp newspaper; place the parcel in a plastic bag, seal and freeze for 10 days. It will last much longer than meat in plain plastic bags when put on ice in a box. Never toss unsealed plastic bags haphazardly into the icebox as they end up on the bottom and drown in excess water. Put perishable foods into sealed plastic containers or baskets and ensure they are top loaded with vegetables.
In camp, and on the move, drain the icebox daily and catch the ice water in a bucket. Use it to pre-cool drinks and other foods that need cooling down. It keeps the icebox cooler and makes the ice last longer. It is also a very simple way to get beer cold quickly.
Crushed ice evaporates rapidly, but it is best to cool drinks down with, especially on weekend and short trips. However on long trips I avoid it and instead smash block ice up for the final fill of the Engel ice box. Whole cleaned fish can be cooled overnight by hanging it from a handy tree branch – providing it is cool. In the morning remove the fillets and store them on ice to take home or for later use.
Keeping a separate esky or small ice box for drinks only is recommended, especially when kids are about, or when thirsty adults are sampling the icebox beer contents. Use an esky for drinks only so that the main box contents remain undisturbed, meaning that the less the lid is opened, the longer the ice lasts. Transferring drinks from the main box to a smaller drink box or esky is highly recommended in bush camps, and on the road. Care of the Icebox. Ice boxes are expensive and require care. Cleaning my Engel is simple with soap and hot water, but I also use a little vinegar to “freshen” the interior up after each use. Lemon liquid is also good. The box is stored away until needed, though it often finds extra service during a BBQ when like-minded fishing and hunting folks flock to my place for a few drinks. During transport ensure that ice boxes do not rub on hard surfaces. It will keep them looking good.