I’m excited to share with you the latest step towards energy resilience and reduced fossil fuel use here on our urban homestead: a solar cooker!! There are few forms of alternative energy that would be more appropriate to our location, for sunshine is the one form of freely available energy there’s lots of here in South Carolina. Although solar panels on the roof may still be a distant dream for renters like us, that doesn’t have to stop us from tapping into the power of the sun in other ways.I’d long been thinking of making a solar cooker myself, and had collected different designs online. At the homesteading festival last October, I met a guy who had done a superb job at this, but he seemed much more tech-savvy than I am and had done things like using a laser cutter to cut his Styrofoam pieces just the right size. Mine would have been a fairly basic cardboard-aluminum foil-glass contraption. In the end, I realized that since we seem to move around so much, any such DIY version would probably not hold together in the long run. And I wanted the solar oven to be durable. Hence, we decided to invest in the All American Sun Oven, which impressed us at the Mother Earth News Fair last year.
The solar cooker is perfect for things that are best cooked slowly, such as stews, soups, and rice. I launched my solar cooking career with this curried lentil stew with squash and kale. A perfect meal for the weekend: I did the prep in the early afternoon, put the pot in the Sun Oven, and there it slowly simmered for a few hours while Dan and I worked in the garden. Occasionally one of us had to adjust the oven’s position in relation to the sun, but that was really all we had to do. It’s virtually impossible to burn anything in the solar cooker; the worst that can happen is that your delicious dish gets dried up. This is good news for anyone like myself who easily gets carried away by another project. By dinnertime, when the sun was already going down, our dinner was ready:The biggest solar cooking hit so far, though, has been this blueberry banana bread. It turned out perfectly moist and we gobbled down one loaf between the two of us right away.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2-2/3 cups sugar
3/4 stick butter, softened
2 eggs2 bananas, mashed
blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
Mix together the flours, the baking powder, and the salt. Beat the sugar and the butter in another bowl until you have a light, creamy texture. Add eggs (beaten) and banana. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients gradually, and lastly add the blueberries and the vanilla extract, if using. Pour into a greased bread pan (or two small ones) and place in the solar oven until they are golden brown and a matchstick inserted in the middle comes out clean. How long this will take in a solar oven will vary. On a clear, sunny day, mine was done in about 90 minutes.
The power of the sun is really impressive… and it’s encouraging that our first solar cooking experiments so far have been such successes. Now I just have to get in the habit of checking the weather report as I plan my meals!