Thursday, August 25, 2016

Solar Cooking - Cooking With Sunshine

While scrolling through my endless Facebook feed...yes I admit I do it too... every now and then I run across a subject that really peaks my interest.  Earlier this summer when Karen Casey-Smith posted a glorious photo of banana bread she had baked in her solar oven, I knew Solar Cooking was a subject that I definitely wanted to know more about.  Karen was kind enough to write up an article for our blog.  Ohhh this looks so cool.   Thanks Karen!

Solar Cooking - Cooking With Sunshine

Yes! You really can cook with sunshine using a solar oven. Place your food into a dark colored pan, set it in a solar oven outside under clear blue, sunny skies, and come back later to a delicious hot cooked meal! How amazing is that? You can even make a solar oven yourself! Now why would you want to cook outside if you have a perfectly nice oven in your home?

Solar Oven Baked Banana Bread

Benefits of Solar Cooking
  • Solar cooking preserves more of the nutrients in your food because it cooks slower and at lower temperatures.
  • You'll enjoy the improved taste and texture of your food and baked goods. You think you know what your vegetables taste like, but wait until you've had them cooked by the sun!
  • Increase your indoor comfort and reduce energy bills during the warm months of the year by cooking outside instead heating up your home by using your conventional oven.
  • Food doesn't dry out or burn when cooked in a solar oven. You don't need to stir your food while it's cooking.
  • Energy from the sun is free.
  • It saves natural resources.
  • It's portable. You can use your oven in your backyard, camping, at the beach, on a boat, or at a picnic cookout.
  • It's fun!

Make a solar oven, buy one, try one!

A demonstration at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair was my introduction to solar cooking. Not only did I get to see solar cooking in action, I had my first delicious tastes of solar baked cookies and bread. Solar cooking is fascinating! Since I love to experiment I had to try it for myself. Also, I wanted to see (and taste) my own results! To begin with I made a solar oven from two cardboard boxes, so with only a small investment of time I could find out how interested I was in continuing. There are several types of solar cookers, including panel cookers, box cookers, and parabolic cookers. A quick search online will bring up lots of plans for making your own.
It turned out that I love using solar for cooking, so we eventually bought an early version of the Sport Solar Oven. It's a great oven, durable and very stable. I've been cooking with mine for at least 13 years. We made our own reflector for the oven out of foam board, and covered it with Mylar. To stabilize the reflector in windy conditions I use two bungee cords, one each at the center top and bottom of the reflector that I hook to the rim of the oven. The reflector increases the temperature of the oven significantly. With the reflector this solar oven usually bakes between 250-300°F. In the right conditions you can cook with solar in winter and summer.
Solar Oven Disassembled

Solar Oven Interior View

Solar Oven Assembled with Homemade Reflector

I've had wonderful results baking banana bread. The crust is light and tender,
the bread is divine. I've often baked jerk chicken, rice, vegetables, lots of things! The solar oven is great for one dish meals, baked or roasted meats, grains, beans, breads, desserts, and more. Here are some recipes to get you started.

To use your solar oven with success you need:

  • clear, or mostly clear, blue skies on a sunny day
  • dark colored cookware - the dark color absorbs heat allowing faster cooking, shiny cookware reflects heat
  • maintain safe practices- use pot holders or oven gloves, protect your eyes from glare
  • maintain safe temperatures while cooking
  • oven thermometer
  • solar oven
  • tasty recipe

Improving lives and the health of others

As if that weren't enough great things about solar ovens, there are more, very important benefits. Solar ovens are improving the lives and health of people the world over, especially women and children. Solar cooking is smokeless, and when used, eliminates breathing serious health-damaging smoke from indoor cooking fires. In addition to the health benefits of cooking with free, clean energy, solar ovens can be used for water pasteurization to provide safe clean water. Using solar energy also saves overburdened natural resources. Money that would have been spent on firewood, or charcoal, can be used for food or other necessities. There's a wealth of information at Solar Cookers International, a non-profit organization whose "mission is to spread solar thermal cooking technology to benefit people and environments." They are a wonderful resource for information on solar cooking. Please consider donating if you'd like to support their work.
I hope you're inspired to try solar cooking yourself. You'll get great tasting food with lots of nutrients, cooked with free energy, save resources and money, and help our environment all at the same time! This is a win/win for everyone. It would also be a fun project to do with your family and friends. A project where you get to eat your homework is definitely a plus!
Happy solar cooking!

Prints of Karen's wonderful photography can be found in her shop on Etsy.

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