Sunday, 30 August 2009

Solar Oven to the Rescue!?

This morning, for the second time in about a week, the power went off. The last time it happened it was off for about 90 minutes. That day, I had been up already and had had my morning cup of tea, but Gord hadn't: he wanted tea and couldn't have it. So this morning when the power went off again, it was one of the first things he said: "We could boil water for tea in your Sun Oven." I agreed this was a great idea, and so I went downstairs to put water in the black enamel pot and set up the solar oven outside.

It was a clear and sunny day, so everything was looking good. The oven was already up to 150F before I had even put the pot inside of it. Once I had the reflectors up and the glass door latched shut, I puttered around for a bit in the yard, picking and eating the odd saskatoon berry while gathering some greens from the garden for the guinea pigs. When I went back inside the house, the power was already back on! Considering the power company had told me that a substation had gone down, this was a bit surprising, and almost disappointing! I left the water in the solar oven anyway, just in case the power went off again. And because I wanted to see if it would really boil water.

It ended up taking quite a while (i.e., 60+ minutes) for the water to boil, probably because I put way more water in the pot than I needed for two cups of tea, and because the early morning sun is not very intense, particularly this time of year. The water wasn't boiling anymore by the time I got it in the house, but I made some red raspberry leaf tea with the still-very-hot water, and it was just fine. (Gord made his with the electric kettle while I was still outside - cheater!)

A few hours later, it dawned on me that today would be a good day to make a pot of potato-leek soup in the Sun Oven, and if I hurried I could still get take advantage of some of the good solar cooking hours (10 am - 2 pm). I used the rest of the still-warm tea water to make (instant) soup stock, and within a half hour had a pot of soup ingredients ready to simmer in the solar oven. The oven got up to 300F this time (I have only used it once before, since it arrived in the mail about two weeks ago), which seemed like perfect soup-simmering temperature. Unfortunately I had missed most of the good cooking hours, but even so, by 6 pm we were eating some darn good soup!

Some things about the solar oven I really like are: that I don't have to stir the soup, and I don't have to worry about it burning. Later, washing up was really easy, because nothing was stuck to the sides or bottom of the pan. And the flavors of the soup seemed a lot richer, having been slow cooked - more like home made soup usually tastes the next day.

I do hope the oven reaches some hotter temperatures at some point - I will have to make sure I'm ready by 10 am next time, so I can give it a fair test. Even if it doesn't reach the 400F that the info on the box claims it will, I do think the Sun Oven will be a useful cooking option, regardless of whether there is a power outage or not. So far I have roasted veggies in it, boiled water and made soup: my next goal is to find a biscuit or cookie recipe that is suitable for moderate baking temperatures.

There's nothing like cooking with free energy! Thank you sun!


Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

My sun oven usually gets up to 350 F pretty easily. I usually set it out to pre-heat while I am putting the ingredients together and that gives me a head start. Of course, that's during April - Sept in Oklahoma City. It takes longer in the early spring/late fall.

Yay - Sun Oven comes in handy sometimes doesn't it? Good for you for putting it to work!

Theresa said...

Hi Hausfrau - thanks for the temperature info, that is good to know for comparison purposes. I was too disorganized this year to order the Sun Oven in the Spring, which was my original plan. It will be interesting to see how hot it gets in the Winter here. I think it will be handy for drying things anyway.

Do you do any baking in yours?

Eco Yogini said...

that is VERY cool. it's a slow cooker. :) I would think that pies would be delicious baked in one...
i'm also interested in seeing what happens this winter!

Chile said...

Using a solar oven does require thinking about dinner much earlier in the day. I try to figure out the dinner plan the night before and then cook it in the solar oven if weather permits. We've got cloudy forecasts here for a while so my cooking will probably be sporadic.

Glad you are using and enjoying yours. Another idea for tea is to boil your water the day before and put it in a thermos overnight. Even if you don't use the solar oven to reheat it in the morning, it should take quite a bit less energy to heat the still warm water than cold.

Liz said...

I'm glad you got your solar oven, Theresa. I was wondering about drying things in it and look forward to hearing more.

Amber said...

Yay for your sun oven! I've got an eggplant in mine right now that should be ready by the time I get home from work. I'm going to make baba ganouj with it.

I've made bread in the oven as well. I used a pre-made mix though. The first attempt did not work at all, the second attempt worked perfectly! The bread didn't brown the way it would in a regular oven, but otherwise it tasted great and the texture was fine.

There are some limitations to using the sun oven at more northerly latitudes, and you do need to plan ahead and allow more time for things to cook, but I love my sun oven and use it as much as I can.

Have fun with yours!

SoapBoxTech said...

Ahhh keeping all that sunlight to yourself now are you? You can't bogart the sun you know. Free the rays! Free the rays!

Jes' kidding.

Congrats Theresa, I hope you get to use it lots more.

Theresa said...

EcoY - mmm...a pie...that has delicious possibilities - thanks!

Chile - meal planning is not my strong suit, but I have gotten a bit better over the last couple years since I've been cooking more from scratch. This could motivate me to take meal planning to a whole 'nother level. I can only do the solar cooking on weekends anyway, so I should be able to get it together on those days, you'd think!

Liz - apparently it can be used for drying things - you just don't latch the glass door closed so that the moisture can escape. It does steam up in the cookbox part, otherwise.

Amber - oooo! baba ganouj! I love that stuff. I don't suppose you would be able to post your recipe? Also, according to the directions that came with the oven, if you mist some water on top of breads and such, they will brown better. I will have to try that.

SoapBox - this late summer weather has been good solar cooking weather, that's for sure. And don't worry - I always let the rays out of the oven when I'm done!

They call him James Ure said...

Wow how cool!!! I've never heard of a sun oven but it sounds like a great idea. I'm so excited about the inventiveness of people when in comes to cleaner living. My wife works for a solar company, which is very rewarding for her knowing her work is going toward such a great cause. The sun oven must be equally as rewarding.

Theresa said...

Hi James - thanks for coming by and taking the time to comment :)

How cool for your wife to work for a solar company - it would be very exciting and satisfying to be involved in something like that! The sun oven is certainly satisfying to use - I'm looking forward to becoming more skilled in using it.

Leaf Dharma said...

Saw alot of those ovens in Nepal. We have one in our backyard as well I've done sourdough bread in it.

Apple Jack Creek said...

Hey Theresa.... do you know about this?

The Great Potato Giveaway, in just a couple of weeks!

Maybe you could cook scalloped potatoes in your solar oven. :)

Theresa said...

Leaf Dharma - I will definitely have to try baking some bread or buns in it - I did that in my woodstove oven which didn't get much hotter than the sun oven, so that should work. Wow, Nepal - it must have been amazing to be there!

AJC - I did know about that! Isn't that a great idea? Unfortunately I will be out of town that weekend, but I have passed the info on to my family. Scalloped potatoes - another great idea!