Trials & errors of a newbie to solar cooking
by Alicia Perez
Trials and errors:
I have been looking for ways to save money on our propane bill, and I decided to experiment with different cooking methods instead of using our propane stove/range. Last week we got our first freeze for the season. We heat our main level with a wood burning stove.
I thought it would be a good opportunity to conserve propane, by cooking on the wood stove. It is made of soapstone, so it doesn’t get really hot like a cast iron stove would. But, I thought I would try using it like a slow cooker. I put two ducks that we had worked hard to raise, pluck and freeze into a big pot on the stove.
It wasn’t too cold that day, so we only made one fire in the morning and another one before bed. The next morning I was concerned because that pot of ducks had never come to a boil. We made one more fire and then that afternoon I thought I had better finish cooking them on the regular stove top.
As soon as they came to a boil, our 4 year old said “Something smells like poop!” It was those ducks. I thought, “Well, maybe they just need to cook longer at a higher temperature.” I sure didn’t want to throw them away because they were a lot of hard work to raise and especially pluck! After a few minutes of all of us gagging on the smell, I resigned myself to the idea that they were most likely bad. So, we put them on the back porch to cool until evening when we disposed of them in the back field to feed the predators.
Lesson learned: If I am to attempt that again, I will try using a pressure cooker and watch the length of time the food is on the stove. Also, I might bring the food to a boil first, and then put it onto the stove. In the middle of winter when it’s colder, we will probably have the fire burning hotter, and hopefully it will be hot enough to cook the food before it rots! After this experience, I decided to pursue solar cooking.
I ordered the Global Sun Oven and the Solar Burner from Cantina-West and am eagerly awaiting their arrival.
Update: Today we got our Solar Burner in the mail. We were eager to try it out right away. Our oldest (19) son supervised the assembling project while the younger brothers put it together. Meanwhile, I gathered food to cook our first solar cooked meal. By the time the Burner was on the porch ready to use, it was 5:20 pm. “Hmm, I don’t know if there is enough sun left, but we’ll try it.” I put a covered pan of water on to bring to a boil intending to steam some broccoli. I was also planning to fry some fish. We waited and felt to see if the pan was getting hot. It was warm but not hot. I went ahead and added the broccoli. Finally after a few minutes, we went inside and kept checking on it. After several minutes we heard a crash. The wind had caught our burner and blown it off the porch. Down came the pot of broccoli, which had not yet come to a boil.
I picked it up and brought it into the house, to wash and finished cooking dinner on the stove. We brought the burner into the house to get it out of the wind. Our 12 year old said, “Look, we can cook inside the living room.” as the sun reflected onto the ceiling. Hmm, I wonder…has anyone ever cooked through a window?
It was quite a chore to get the big burner through the front door, into the kitchen and outside to the back porch, to store it. We definitely need to work on moving it more efficiently and finding a good way and place to store it. Since we don’t have a garage, this will be our biggest challenge. We need to be creative to keep it in a convenient place outside and protect it from the wind and moisture.
Our plan is to hang it from the back porch with a covering (a tarp most likely). In the meantime, we put it face down with a tarp wrapped around it.
2nd try: We got our burner set up on a more sheltered place off our back porch. This morning I was determined to fry some potatoes, eggs and make toast. I probably started a bit early at around 10:00 in late October (in Colorado). It took awhile to get the focal point in the right spot. But, as time went on, it seemed easier to concentrate it on the bottom of the pan.
To find the focal point easier, we put some newspaper under the pan, watched to see where it started smoldering and centered the pan on that spot. (We planned ahead to extinguish the fire, by having a bowl of water to put the newspaper into.)
The breakfast took awhile to cook, but I did notice a thin layer of clouds that probably slowed it down. I experimented with the best way to make toast. As fun as it was to make burn spots with the focal point, it was best to fry/cook it in the pan.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, the pan sizzled and cooked much faster. The breakfast was delicious! It reminded me of cooking over a campfire which I love to do.
Our 12 year old made a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich after I was done. Cooking later in the day really made a big difference.
Conclusion for today: I need to practice finding the focal point faster and cooking a bit later in the morning, at this time of year. I’m looking forward to our next solar cooked meal.
Excellent stories, well written and very detailed!
This is exactly what our site visitors like to read. These types of "learning experiences" are what make the adventure of solar cooking so great and it makes it even...if I dare say...ENTERTAINING.
I had to chuckle at the different and humorous cooking experiences.
As all solar cooks have learned, there is a "slight" learning curve with solar cooking, but once you start it seems only too easy after a while.
Thank you again for sharing with us and our visitors.