I first heard about solar cooking at the World Community film festival. There was a short film showing solar cookers being used to boil drinking water in Africa. The cooker was made out of cardboard and tinfoil. Once this simple unit was built it saved many hours of time in the lives of the people who had it, who otherwise spent so much time collecting firewood just to boil water. The ten-minute film was inspiring and the one I remembered most from the whole festival.
When I got home, I looked up solar cooking on the internet and was directed to solarcooking.org. There I found all kinds of designs for the solar cooker. The first one I built was a simple box style cooker. I built it last summer using a cardboard box, black paint and turkey sized oven bags. It worked, but not well, it took all day to cook rice. Still, in the summertime, foods such as rice and dried beans that require long cooking times would do well to be cooked outside, by the sun. I roasted garden vegetables brushed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to succulent perfection, with melted cheese on top. It was my first solar cooked meal. It took about 4 hours to cook because the box was not 100% insulated and sealed.
There are two main types of solar cookers. There is the oven, and the grill. All the huge varieties of designs either reflect concentrated sunlight into an insulated box or create a focal hot point using reflected light on an open surface.
If building the box style cooker, the bottom of the box must be black, to absorb heat. Black metal is the best. The dishes should be either black or glass. Use less water to cook the food than normal, and allow for twice as long a cooking time. A small oven thermometer can be bought cheaply at the dollar store to show oven temperature. The box must be well insolated and airtight. Solar grills can also be built that concentrate the heat in a small open area quickly. These can be used to grill tortillas, pancakes and even meat. There are collapsible designs for camping. Solar cookers can be made out of old tires, satellite dishes, umbrellas, car wind shield shades and any number of house hold items you may have around.
I am hoping to celebrate the solstice this year by inviting friends over for an entirely solar cooked feast. I am hoping to take it beyond that and use solar for pressure canning, up to 10 pounds pressure. What a great way to honor harvest, by preserving it using the sun to heat the canner. I am not sure if it will work, but I am hoping to build one that fits my canner.
If solar cooking were to catch on in a big way, communities could build large solar grills and ovens in parks and campsites where people could come and have cookouts during sunny weather. There could be one that heats up at noon, and one that heats up in the evening, permanently built, facing the appropriate directions. This would enable safe outdoor cooking during dry fire seasons without using any open flame whatsoever. Imagine, on a kayaking trip, you arrive at a beach where one of these cookers is built, and it is already heating up, like it does every evening, hot enough to cook your evening meal as soon as you get there. Wouldn’t it be fabulous, at the end of a hot August day of paddling, to sun bake your fresh food and heat up water for bathing without using any fuel cans or building any fires?