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By Kellene Bishop
Hundreds, if not thousands of dollars are regularly spent by Americans on gadgets and gizmos to make their cooking experiences taste better. Smokers, cedar planks, fancy grills, kitchen appliances, turkey fryers and more are all acquired with the intent to produce that ideal mouth-watering meal. Given my love of cooking, it’s no wonder my friends constantly accuse me of having every kitchen gadget known to man—er… woman. So it’s no surprise that I recently acquired yet another gadget, only to discover that not only did it produce the most amazing taste in foods I’ve prepared otherwise, but it was also ideal to use in the event of emergency survival. No water. No messy clean up. No worries of scorching or burning. No constant monitoring. And no fuel of any kind is required. The solar oven is now officially my new cooking nirvana.
As any reader of my blog knows, I love, love, love the pressure cooker. It gives me scrumptious foods in a fraction of the time. So when I need it fast (which I usually do) the pressure cooker wins, hands down. However, my solar oven will also give me delectable delights while I leave it and forget it, and the resulting taste, even in some of the most innocuous dishes, is incomparable with any other form of cooking. It provides distinctly unique results to meats, breads, vegetables, rice, pizza, and even brownies! (In fact, I’ve heard stories of some teenage boys who won’t eat brownies any other way now that they’ve discovered the merits of a solar oven.)
Before I get carried away with the food aspect of the solar oven, let me start with the basic benefits.
Obviously, storing a year’s supply of fuel to cook, light, and heat your home in the event of an emergency is not feasible for the majority of Americans. It can also be hazardous depending on what kind of fuel you’re planning to use. Thus the limited amount of fuel you are able to store ahead of time will be precious in a time of uncertainty. However, a solar oven will make use of the FREE fuel God’s provided us, allowing you to divert the majority of your available fuel resources to other needs besides cooking. You can use a solar oven on any day of the year in which you have full or almost full sunlight, even in the winter. It makes absolutely no difference what the outside temperature is when you use it. The majority of your dishes will take only 2 to 4 hours to fully cook. Your food will never burn or scorch (although baked goods will dry out if left in too long), and you will have effortless clean up afterwards. (Thereby conserving your physical energy as well—a big plus!) There is no danger of a fire, and with the exception of frying foods, there’s not much you can’t prepare successfully in a solar oven.
Another very interesting benefit of the solar oven is that it is typically waterless cooking. That’s right. If you want to cook a pot roast, simply put in your meat and your seasonings—no water—and allow it to sit in your solar oven for 3 to 4 hours, depending on the size of the roast. When it’s done, it will simply fall apart into tender pieces, and you’ll have plenty of liquids left over to make scrumptious gravy with. Much like the concept of a pressure cooker, when you cook in a solar oven, your foods will actually retain more of their nutrients this way, and certainly be more flavorful and tender. You want to cook vegetables? No need to water down the nutritional value by adding water. Simply put them in your container in the solar oven and you will have yummy results a couple hours later. You can even put corn on the cob still in the husks in your oven, and they will turn out so delicious and tender you may easily do without the salt and butter. Want “hard-boiled” eggs? Just put the raw egg in a dry pot in the container Mother Nature provided and let it cook for 1.5 to 2 hours—less time if all you want is a “poached” egg. Since water weighs more than air, adding water to a dish, such as soup, will actually take longer to cook than even a whole chicken—although soups and such turn out just fine in a solar oven as well. In fact, the solar oven is ideal for pasteurizing your water for safe cooking and drinking consumption. (Think of all of the fuel and personal energy you will save by not having to boil your water or treat it with expensive doo-dads!)
Think you’ve got “little friends” in your wheat? Simply “bake” the grain in your solar oven for a couple of hours, and you’ve got “critter free” grains that are easy to sift out any unwanted guests from. That’s a heck of a lot better than throwing out the good pasta, rice, beans, and wheat, due to some enemy infiltrators, right?
While you can purchase a wide variety of solar ovens, they are also relatively simple—and definitely affordable—to make. (see http://solarcooking.org/plans/funnel.htm) However, to be honest, I prefer to buy mine so that I don’t have to figure out how to make one when I need it most. After scouring the internet for hours, I found the best value for commercial types right here in Utah. (Nope, I don’t sell them, but I’m happy to direct you to the source I found that does. Call Five Star Preparedness at 801-734-9596 to order the right solar oven for you, complete with shipping right to your door. You can also visit them online at www.fivestarpreparedness.com)
Here are the basic fundamentals of an operating solar oven (not to be confused with a parabolic solar cooker). Sunlight has to pass through a glazing shield of some sort-usually glass, and then be absorbed by a black interior and black cookware. The heat rays from the sun are long and thus they cannot escape the oven, so they remain inside. The reflectors you will use allow for more of the sun’s rays to pass through the glazing layer, increasing the temperature within the cooking chamber as a result. Most solar ovens will get up to 350 to 450 degrees. Just so you know, any food can cook at 180 degrees or more, it simply will take more time than you’re used to at such lower temperatures.
To create the preferred “black cookware” to use with your solar oven, all you need to do is spray the outside of a clear glass cooking dish (or even a Mason jar) with BBQ grill black paint. (You can easily obtain this for about 5 bucks at your local Wal-Mart.) This paint will not leech any chemicals into your food unless it heats up to 1200 degrees, so it’s safe to use in this instance. There are also plenty of dark cookware items available in your local stores. Truth be told, the black cookware isn’t absolutely necessary, but other choices will dramatically slow down your cooking time.
In the event that you are using your solar oven during a prolonged power outage, plan on putting your first dish in the oven in the morning to be ready for lunch, and then putting in your dinner meal after you remove your lunch preparations. Baked goods cook best with the mid-day sun, as opposed to the later afternoon.
In closing, allow me to highlight some great ways to use your solar oven:
- Cook (the smaller the food is cut, the faster it will cook)
- Bake (even bread, muffins, cookies, etc.)
- Water Pasteurization (You can even obtain a simple water pasteurization indicator)
- Sanitize dishes/utensils (Conserve your hot water)
- Eliminate bad enzymes or insects from grains and legumes
- Conserve energy with easy clean-up
- Conserve Fuel
- Conserve Water in cooking
- Reduce heat in your kitchen during the summer
- Can goods such as jams, fruits, and veggies
- Disinfect homemade bandages
And at least 25 more uses that I simply don’t have room for in this blog. I wholeheartedly encourage you to discover this great way of cooking now. Not only will the flavors and textures be to your liking, but you certainly won’t feel like you’re “roughing it” in the event of an emergency.
Copyright 2009 Preparedness Pro & Kellene Bishop. All rights reserved. You are welcome to repost this information so long as it is credited to Preparedness Pro & Kellene Bishop.