Cooking With Solar

Recently, we bought a secondhand Solar Oven. We’ve experimented with it, with excellent results so far.

We’ve made our own temporary solar ovens in the past, using cardboard boxes and tin foil. We generated useful heat, but never with enough reliability to count on. This manufactured oven’s insulation, adjusters and gimbals, and fold out collector offers much better collecting and heat retention.

Our Solar Oven on the veranda, ready to cook (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Our Solar Oven on the veranda, ready to cook (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).Coo

We started simply, cooking a small pot of lentils for chili (see Quick and Easy Lentil Chili) and warming a batch of quinoa to mix into it. We had a hot lunch in a couple of hours. It might have been less, but we set it up in the sun about midmorning and didn’t do anything else with it until we were ready to eat.

That’s what we like about it, the ability to set up a meal and walk away. It cooks meals for us while we’re busy elsewhere! If we really want to generate heat, we can chase the sun around for perfect alignment throughout the cooking period, but setting it about halfway through the anticipated arc of sun passage and leaving it works very well. I’ve read of people who have sun tracking PV mounts adding a shelf onto the structure to hold a solar oven, so that it remains aligned perfectly with the sun through its arc. I would love that!

Next, we baked gingerbread. We did this on a partly cloudy day with a lot of haze. It took considerably longer, partly because I switched vegetable oil for the recipe’s shortening, so I ended up with a very thin batter. No problem! We set it up in the morning and left it till the late afternoon. Had we not gotten so curious about progress, we could have ignored it all day. After all, as a dessert or snack we had no set end time for the project. We pursued our usual chores and projects, and had a piping hot snack in the afternoon, with more at dinner.

According to the manufacturers, it’s impossible to burn food in a Solar Oven. No doubt I will test that theory eventually. I’m sure food could get overdone, although the system retains moisture, which would make even that harder to do by accident.

We’re proving its usefulness as a full on oven. More likely, it’ll be most useful for warming leftovers, which takes little more than adequate planning to make sure we get the oven set up and warming in time. I boast often about the short time between catching and baking fish. It could be that I won’t even remove them from the beach before they’re ready to serve!

As the primary propane tank hauler around here, I really appreciate the potential LP savings. In the past, we’ve heated the oven to prepare one dish of leftovers. Transferring those meals to solar whenever possible will save a lot of gas.

I rather enjoy the irony here. Many who don’t live here have trouble accepting that Alaskans can use solar panels for our electricity, much less cook meals with solar energy.

If we can do cook food in the Solar Oven in April, I’m excited to see what will happen in June, around the summer solstice! When the sun rises before we do, we might even set up a meal the night before, so it’s cooking when we get up. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

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2 Responses to Cooking With Solar

  1. Survival Skvez says:

    Do you have concerns about scavengers smelling the cooking food and trying to liberate it from the oven?

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    No. Our scavengers would most likely be ravens. Even they can’t get into this thing. They’ve been interested in it, but cautious.

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