By Karen Retra, Seed Savers Albury-Wodonga
Sick of salads in summer, but unwilling to heat up your kitchen by cooking? Maybe you should try a solar cooker. I cook savoury slices, roast vegetables, cakes and even rice in mine, and the kitchen stays cool.
What is a solar cooker? There are many types; all use the sun’s energy for heat instead of gas, electricity or wood. The heat is concentrated around or onto a cooking vessel. You can buy commercially made models or you can make your own.
I started solar cooking with just a reflector (like a car windscreen protector) and an oven bag. I was astounded when it worked! My current ‘solar cooker’ is more than five years old. It’s made from a couple of cardboard boxes, one inside the other, with newspaper between them to provide insulation. The inside and an adjustable cardboard reflector are covered with foil, to help ‘collect’ the sunlight. At the top, an oven bag provides a window where the sun shines in but the heat is trapped. Fancier versions have glass or Perspex. A black cooking pot or tin can help absorb the heat, but isn’t mandatory.
To cook, I place the oven in the sun to ‘pre-heat’. An oven thermometer placed inside helps me track the temperature. Typically my box cooker will operate at around 110 degrees in summer. This makes it like using a slow cooker. However, dishes that are usually cooked at higher temperatures can also be made; they just take longer. For example, zucchini slice that could cook in 40 mins in a conventional oven might cook for 2-3 hours in the solar box cooker. I adjust the orientation of the oven during cooking to track the sun. It’s no big deal if you forget that you’re cooking either – it’s virtually impossible to burn anything in this type of solar cooker.
As for other solar cooking accessories, don’t forget you’ll still need your oven mitts (the dish will be over 100 degrees!). Sunglasses also come in handy or else you’ll need to stand between the sun and your oven to avoid the glare.
For more about solar cooking and photos of mine online see here.
Solar cookers are fun to make, portable, use a free and plentiful ‘fuel’, can be used during total fire bans, and can cook food in hot weather without heating up the kitchen … no wonder I’m hooked!