We recently stumbled across HOMEGROWN member extraordinaire Aliza’s inaugural attempt at solar baking. If you haven’t read her post on the subject, check it out; the link back to her blog reminds us what a crucial role the sun plays in developing countries, where things like electricity, gas, and firewood aren’t always in abundance.
Seeing as how it’s hotter than Hades across this country right now, we thought a quick refresher on solar baking—essentially, magnifying and using the sun’s rays as your heat source to cook food—could be helpful. Plus, solar baking feels a little like a science experiment, which in turn feels like playtime: a nice spirit lifter in a drought-filled summer when we frequently find ourselves shaking a fist at the sun.
No surprise here: The HOMEGROWN community is rife with sun lovers. In addition to Aliza, there’s Shelley, who turns out a mean pork roast with sweet potatoes, apples, cabbage, and onions in her solar oven; Kyla, who uses the grass-fed chuck roast she cooks in her solar oven to make shredded-beef tacos; and Sharon, who turned leftover solar fiesta pork stew into a solar stack burrito. Erika has fashioned her own solar oven, and David has built not one but two. We found a few other creative solar-cooking solutions courtesy of the HOMEGROWN crew:
• using a solar oven to make yogurt, a process that, when using a conventional oven, can heat up the whole house
• and these enterprising folks even tossed around the pros and cons of dehydrating food in a car, with or without a solar oven as an aid.
• But we got especially excited when we heard that Stuart uses his solar oven to barbecue ribs. We asked him for any secret tips, and here’s what he said:
“First, I do not thaw them—they stay frozen—and I put them into a dark-colored pan. I let them cook for a while to release any moisture. I drain and cover with my favorite barbecue sauce and finish cooking about six hours over low heat, 225 degrees. They are so tender they fall apart. You can brown them first if you like, but it’s not necessary. I do pork roast the same way, freezer to pan, with garlic, salt, pepper, one medium onion, and a quarter-cup water, also for six hours.”
We know what we're having for dinner tonight. Thanks, Stuart.
AND FROM THE WEB
• This straightforward WikiHow provides instructions for building both lightweight and heavy-duty solar ovens.
• PBS shares kid-friendly plans for constructing a solar oven out of a pizza box. Bonus: solar-oven s’mores!
• For the genius set, Instructables shares plans for an advanced model that automatically tracks the sun, maximizing solar power.
• But you can find pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about solar baking at the breathtakingly exhaustive—and multilingual—Solar Cookers World Network, including tips, safety precautions, and recipes (from Moroccan chicken tagine and moussaka to chocolate chip cookies and peach meringues). You’ll also find free instructions for building panel-, box-, and parabolic-style solar cookers, including one variety involving a windshield shade as well as the awesomely named Fun-Panel (perhaps so dubbed because it only takes about an hour to build using common household items).
Hungry for more HOMEGROWN projects? Join the Alternative Energy group for additional solar ideas and revisit the Outdoor Earth Oven Building 101 for instructions on crafting a brick-and-mortar alfresco kitchen. If you’ve got tips, recipes, or comments on solar baking, by all means, post them below and keep the conversation going! Then troll for more things to plant, grow, cook, preserve, make, and craft in the HOMEGROWN 101 archive.
Wow, so impressed with the folks who can actually cook in their solar ovens! So far I am sticking only to simple dehydrating in the sun. Wish I could try those ribs!
Just to let you know i use a home made oven with no reflectors so it act as a crock pot but it gets upto 275 deg and food is so much tastier cooked this way i can use reflectors but all i have to do is place it in and when dinner time just remove and eat leaves you time to do what ever else you have to do. By cooking this way you can use all your favorite crock pot recipes and modify to your oven.
I am a new member of Homegrown. I have been a subsistence gardener and food preservation expert for most of my adult life (about to turn 60). I am also an experienced solar cook and solar cooker innovator and serve on the executive board of Solar Cookers International as well as being founder of fledgling Student Solar Cooking Science Projects, an NGO that works (long-distance, through email) with a sister-NGO pilot program in Eldoret Kenya.
Solar thermal cooking (the "thermal" in this context means working directly with the sun's rays, not converting to electricity first) is the easiest, least expensive, most accessible 'alternative' technology going. It is so easy and inexpensive that the power companies would really prefer for the news not to get out. I fight them every day, one way or another. I'm glad to see you have the solar cooking wiki link here (that's the Solar Cookers World Network one). That's where I got my start. Researching for a novel one night and BAM my life changed forever! The wiki, however, has so much information that some people have trouble narrowing it down to what they need to get started.
So when one of my writing friends, Valerie Comer, a Christian romance novelist and Canadian farm wife invited me to do a guest blog post on solar cooking a couple summers ago (she was doing a Green Bite Monday series back then), I jumped at the chance to tell her readers how easy it was to cook with sunshine. Val and I decided it would also be good if they learned about the enormous difference solar cooking can make on the humanitarian and environmental fronts, so it turned into a three part series.
Part one is the practical part though. All the information and links to get you started are right there. Most people already have items and materials in their homes they could easily turn into solar cookers, and discount and thrift shops and yard sales can be treasure troves. Why not give clean, convenient solar cooking a try? It is the only totally non-polluting primary means of cooking I know of, it is easy if you have the right simple gear and follow the right simple guidelines, and the power is free, pouring out of the sky every day clouds don't get in the way. Aliza, ribs are EASY to solar cook, and if you start early you can infuse them with garlic and parboil a bit to get some fat out before putting them into the sauce. With a truck size silver windshield shade (and a tub, grate or 2, large black oval roaster, oven size turkey bag) you can cook eight or ten pounds at a time! Solar cooking rocks! Check out the first in my series to see how easy it can be:
Overcommitted does not begin to cover my life right now, so I do not expect to be able to spend much time on Homegrown, but I am a tremendous resource when it comes to solar cooking, so when a friend posted this article on my Facebook page, I decided to sign up. There is a Solar Cookers World Network group on Facebook that is a good place to learn and teach about solar cooking, too. Solar Cookers International has a Facebook page (I am head admin at present) that also posts practical information and links about solar cooking on a regular basis, as well as news and links about the difference solar cooking can make in tough places and the big picture.