Homemade solar cooker/oven and my results; or, Cars are for driving, not cooking in
by M J Loesch
Growing up in San Francisco in the 1970's, I've been aware of both great food and the environment, and have long felt that one should not come at the expense of the other.
I have been interested in solar cooking ever since I saw a TV news story approximately 30 years ago featuring Texas housewives who cooked their families' meals in Pyrex cookware and plastic cooking bags on top of their automobile dash boards. I was fascinated but concluded that it wasn't practical for me as San Francisco seldom gets Texas hot and besides I didn't have a car then.
Fast forward to 1987; and as young marrieds my husband and I bought our piece of the American dream 100 plus miles north of San Francisco in a place that does get Texas hot.
Buoyed by "sun tea" success, I tried solar cooking just as I had seen those Texas ladies do. I had minor success, as the results were edible. After a few such times I concluded that it was impractical as the street side of my house has the afternoon shade and I had to get in the "oven" to drive my food up and down the block as the sun moved.
This was supposed to be an economical, environmentally friendly way to eat but I now had to factor in the MPG (meals per gallon!) of my car oven into the equation. I also had to buy the plastic oven cooking bags which are not cheap. And those bags with the seasoning already in them were also full of salt, sugar and additives that I may as well have been eating out of a can or at a fast food place.
I am not a scientist nor unusually paranoid, but I am not convinced of their safety in long term usage. Remember, the best minds once thought the world was flat! I also felt that I could not cook anything but beef and vegetables in them because I could not be sure the food's temperature would be hot enough long enough that any potential salmonella or trichinosis threat would be eradicated. I found my culinary choices quite limited as to what could be cooked in those bags. I couldn't make soups, sauces or anything that had the potential to leak, ooze or explode (I had to drive this thing!) so I didn't bake potatoes, chili, or pies.
The last time I used the car to cook, I bobbled the pan as I was taking it out and the bag and it's contents slid and gave me a bit of a burn. No lasting scar, and this can happen with any oven or stove but kitchen floors are more forgiving than car interiors.
My solar car cooking was a novelty that I soon gave up on and I am now glad I did. A couple of years ago a deer ran into my old car, and as it was a beater, (but a cherished one) I didn't have collision insurance on it. It was cheaper to get it a junk yard front end than to have the auto body shop repair it but we had to wait for one to appear. The year it sat there in the elements with the windows closed, it off-gassed something fierce. The window interiors were covered with a yellow, nicotine-like sticky film and we are not smokers. When we opened the car, the vinyl stench (think 5000 beach balls) was unbearable and it took more than a week with all the windows open 24/7 to even allow us to sit in the car with the windows down without gagging. It was another month before we could sit in the car for more than a few minutes with the windows up. I shudder to think that had solar car cooking been more practical for us, I could have over the years exposed my family and our food to potentially dangerous chemicals one meal at a time.
After all, the secret ingredient in grandma's recipe is supposed to be love.
Thank you MJ,
Very good, and well written.
That is quite the story of your early beginnings and experiences with the world/art of solar cooking.