By Rose Marie Kern
Author of “The Solar Chef – A Southwestern Recipe Book for Solar Cooking”
When I was a kid, every summer the TV news folks would choose a very hot day to go downtown, spread aluminum foil on the County Courthouse steps and crack an egg onto it. They then proceeded to tell jokes about how hot it was. I don’t ever remember the egg getting cooked – but the image stayed with me.
35 years later I saw my first Solar Oven. It was sitting on the ground and contained a nicely browning turkey – in February.
Solar Cookers have made a splash all over the world in the last 10 years. In many countries of Africa, there are villages that have little in the way of firewood for cooking. Sun Cookers, International is a non-profit group that raises money to bring Sun Ovens made from foil covered cardboard with oven roasting bags to these areas. A pot of rice and beans placed into this arrangement will cook food for the family without the women having to spend hours searching for a few small sticks of firewood or dried dung.
There is a town just outside Mexico City wherein the women’s association has built a large solar oven. Panadaria Solaria is the name of their bakery, which supplies most of the village’s bread.
A simple solar oven is made from lining a shoebox with aluminum, then placing a Mason jar with the outside painted black inside. You can put hotdogs or water or anything that needs warmed inside the jar. Tilt the box towards the sun. On a sunny day it should only take 15 to 20 minutes for it to be ready.
There are many plans for building oven sized solar cookers from cardboard or wood. And there are several kinds of Sun Ovens that are considered to be serious appliances.
The Global Sun Oven is one such. It has petal-like reflectors and tempered glass doors. It can reach 425 degrees in summer, and even in winter will cook the evening meal – as long as there is sun! The beauty of this one is that it folds up quickly, weighs only 21 pounds and is easily transportable. It can be used during camping when the forest service won’t even allow camp stoves.
There are also several parabolic cookers – curved surfaces that reflect light toward a pot suspended at the point where the light is focused. These can achieve higher temperature, and are very good for frying. They usually are not as portable as the box cookers, but do very well at boiling the morning coffee!
Although we don’t have the problem of the women in Africa, there are several advantages in using Solar Cookers in the sunny southwest. It reduces the amount of gas or electricity we use with regular stoves – lowering the utility bill. It reduces the amount of heat we generate when using conventional stoves indoors – so our air conditioning doesn’t have to blow out the heat – again reducing the utility bills.
There is also the fact that it’s just plain fun and the food tastes wonderful. I bake chocolate chip cookies in mine, or pizza, or just about anything else I want. If you want it really hot you constantly adjust the direction – aiming directly for the Sun. You can also treat it like a crockpot. Take something frozen and put it in a casserole dish. Set it into the sun over before leaving for work in the morning and point it towards where the sun will be at around 1pm. When you come home from work – dinner’s ready!
Building Solar Cookers – www.solarcooking.org
Manufactured Sun Ovens: www.sunoven.com
Book: Cooking with the Sun, Beth and Dan Halacy, Morning Sun Press