BASICS OF SOLAR COOKING
WITH PICTURES AND LINKS
"For the last 18 years, I have been cooking my dinners and baking a lot of goodies with a solar oven. I have saved money on the electricity and gas I did not have to buy to run my regular stove. I have not overheated the kitchen. The food which comes out of my solar oven is scrumptious. And I have had a lot of fun. I am conserving energy and helping our planet."
How A Sun Oven Works
You can bake bread and cook stews and casseroles, using only the energy of the sun. The sun's rays are concentrated with one or more reflectors and collected in a black, well insulated box. Its hard to believe, but it works--with temperatures in the oven of 300-350 degrees on a hot sunny day, 175-250 degrees with partial sun and clouds. Since food is cooked slowly at relatively low temperature in a solar oven (as in a crock pot), food retains more of its flavor and vitamins and is quite simply delicious. Cooking in a solar oven retains more of the moisture in the food than in a traditional oven. Place the ingredients in the oven in the morning, enjoy your day, and return to a hot meal ready to serve. For days when the sun doesn't shine, you can always go back to your regular stove and use some of the electricity or gas you have saved.
Solar ovens have come on the market which are built and designed to perfection. Or you can build your own in an evening or two. In third world countries in Africa and Asia where fire wood and other cooking fuel has become too expensive or is increasingly unavailable, a solar oven made out of whatever materials are at hand is a marvelously simple and efficient alternative to traditional methods of cooking. Water is also easily boiled and sterilized, thus reducing illness and in fact saving many lives. A huge commercial sun oven called the "Villager" is now available and will bake 50 loaves of bread in half an hour. (The picture at the left shows simple sun ovens--called the "Cook-it"--made with cardboard and aluminum foil in use in a village in Ethiopia.)
A volunteer organization called "Solar Cookers International" based in Sacramento has been instructing people in many countries to make their own solar ovens. Consider becoming a member and supporting their wonderful work. They publish an interesting newsletter and have available valuable resource materials and plans to build a solar cooker such as the "Cook-it" which was designed by them (see the link above).
In Chad, Africa -
"On the first day, the women walk to the nearest place where wood can be gathered. On the second day, they search for firewood. The third day is spent carrying the wood on their backs home to the village"
"The world can choose sunlight or further deforestation,
solar cooking or widespread starvation."
- Audubon Magazine -
Buy A Factory Built One
The best professionally built solar ovens for home use cost around $200-400. Some units have huge polished aluminum reflectors or glass mirror reflectors and many other sophisticated features. They can develop temperatures of 175-400 degrees depending on conditions and how directly you position the oven toward the sun. Highly recommended is the "Global Sun Oven". This oven costs $289 (including shipping within the continental U.S.) and is available from: Sun Ovens International Inc.
Make Your Own Sun Oven
An excellent home built solar oven can be constructed for $5-10 in materials and one to two evenings of work. Materials needed: cardboard, aluminum foil, Elmer's glue, and a piece of glass for the lid. Write Solar Cookers International and send them $5 for a detailed set of plans or $10 for a 50 page manual on solar cooking which includes the plans and a number of recipes. Contact via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
There are a few solar oven kits available. They range from small, portable units for camping and even backpacking to large, home units. A number of plans are available on-line from the Solar Cooking Archive (see list of links below). An easy design to build is the Reflective Open Box Solar Cooker
But there are many many many more designs to choose from on the Solar Cooking Archive.
Take a look!
- two tasty snacks you can cook in the sun -
Tips for Solar Cooking in the Winter Months
There are several things you can do to increase the efficiency of your cooker:
1) MOST IMPORTANT: the sun is so low in the Winter months that a solar cooker must be tilted darn near horizontal to keep the sun at an angle of 90 degrees to the glass. Buy yourself a cheap plastic carpenters square from a hardware store (the type that looks like a triangle). Put the square on the glass and angle the cooker until you cannot see its shadow anymore. Now the cooker is focused perfectly.
2) You will benefit from turning the cooker frequently. A big pot of brown rice, for example, will need two to three hours to cook in the winter. I would re-focus the cooker at least twice or more if possible if you have time. I turn mine every 15 minutes or so for muffins and things like that that require high cooking temperatures.
3) The best cooking time is between 10 AM to 2 PM. After 3 PM on short days of January the sun is too low for solar cooking.
4) To increase the insulation of your cooker more on a cold, clear Winter day, wrap the body of the cooker in an old blanket or nestle it in that pile of old leaves in your yard.
4) Check your cooker to see if you are losing heat in the gaps between the glass and the box. Once the glass lid is closed you should not be able to push a piece of paper under the glass.
5) In less than ideal conditions, you can always use part of the energy that you are going to save (cooking later in the year) by bringing the liquid called for in the recipe quickly to a boil on a gas stove or the microwave. Then pour over the dry ingredients and pop the warmed food into a pre-heated solar oven to finish cooking.
Choosing the Best Type of Pot to Use in a Sun Oven
I have used a Pyrex type of glass pot for years and years. If you are looking for an excuse to buy something new, look for a glass pot that is tinted. I had one that was tinted brown and another that was tinted dark red. My bigger glass pot finally broke so now I am using a cheaper dark blue (not white) enameled pot with a similar lid. Dark color of whatever material is the most important thing in choosing a pot to cook in. When I was using my glass pots, it even made a difference in the cooking time if the top layer of my lasagna was dark tomato sauce or white mozzarella cheese.
A Few Important Links
*Solar Cooking Archive - USA
(The best single source for solar cooking information: Plans, Articles, Images,
Resources, Directories, News, Hot Topics, Discussion Group)
Amazing Environmental Organization Web Directory
("Earth's Biggest Environmental Organization Search Engine")
A New Book on Solar Cooking with Recipes
Comparison of the Major Solar Cookers Available on the Market
For further information or just chatting,
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(This page Copyright 1998-2010 by Mindy Phypers)