Solar Potatoes (and more) with Joan

[Joan wrote this post several weeks ago,
so she's cooked lots of meals since!  --George]

July 10, 2010

I started cooking with my solar Cookit around the end of June, here in New Hampshire. After a year or so of trying to tap into all that free heat by doing things like putting black pots full of water in my black car I finally decided to get serious about my long-term interest in cooking with the sun. I realized that if I ordered a Cookit from Solar Cooking International, my money would go to a good cause and I could copy the design and share with others—which the organization encourages.

Plus, I just wasn’t getting around to putting an effective solar cooker together on my own. And as I would soon discover, the difference between a well-designed cooker and a black pot on the dashboard of my car was the difference between having dinner ready in three hours, or not having dinner cooked at all.

It arrived on my birthday and I got started the next day. I paid about $50 for the Teacher’s Kit, complete with all I needed: a 9” black enameled pot with cover as well as a “pasteurization indicator”, two sturdy plastic oven bags (which enclose the black pot), two clothes pins, and all kinds of posters, journals, instruction manuals, recipes.

These people are working hard to make sure solar cooking is successful. This Cookit kit I ordered is being used in Kenya, Haiti and other sun-bathed countries. It is used for water pasteurization as well as for cooking.

But would it work here in northern New England?

I was surprised by its portability and lightness. It is made from just about the same amount of cardboard used to make an average-sized box. But the Cookit cardboard is covered with mylar on one side. It folds flat and I can pack everything I need in a small shopping bag. I needed to supply a metal trivet to elevate the pot an inch, and a few wooden clip-type clothes pins (to close up the bag, and to use for adjusting cardboard angles).

Here what I’ve cooked so far (as of July 10…but the list grows longer with each sunny day! Without exception, all my meal cooked and tasted good, if not great!

Day 1—Lentils cooked for 4 hours, just plain in water. (GOOD)

Day 2—White sushi rice with carrots, onions and pieces of raw chicken. (GREAT)
I was hesitant to use my usual brown rice because it takes so long to cook. So, I tossed a few cumin seeds and a bay leaf into white sushi rice with the normal amount of water. It resulted in a beautiful well-cooked dish.

Day 3—Indian cornbread—with ww flour, cornmeal, pumpkin (ours) blueberries, etc. Baking this worked beautifully, and now I want to create a solar oven, specifically for baked items. (GREAT)
Day 4—Turkey soup—Just add a chicken carcass (mine was a raw turkey breastbone), throw in some vegetables and spices (don’t add water!) and…wait a few hours on a sunny day. Voila! Take the turkey off the bone and add to soup broth. (GREAT)

Day 5—Raw chicken legs and large breast pieces, marinated, with carrots and onions. (GREAT)

Day 6—Quiche made with raw eggs, frozen vegs, cheese. (Not great—not good recipe)

Day 7—Indian rice—with cumin seed, turmeric powder, coriander. (GREAT!)

Day 8—Campsite Chicken and vegetables. (GREAT)

Day 9—Raw potatoes, cut into quarters, with raw eggs in shells sitting on top. No water or oil added. The beauty of this is that the potatoes (even if you get involved in something else and leave them in the cooker for 4 hours) don’t get soggy and overcook as they would if they were on a kitchen stove in a pan of water. They stay intact and never burn. The eggs don’t break as they often do when cooked in water. Voila! Ingredients for potato salad, the easy way. I tried this twice, using twice as many cooking hours the second time. Not a great difference.

What I’m learning:

–200-250 degrees F seems to be the normal cooking temperature.

–Solar cooking is very “forgiving”. No stirring required, no oil, no water needed for things normally requiring it. Food can be “forgotten” and, because of the low temperatures and enclosure, if it overcooks, it does so…gently. Solid vegetables like carrots and potatoes need no water because they cook so slowly, at low heat.

–It’s fast: 2-3 hours. I had thought that one of the shortcomings was that food was ready at 2p.m.—requiring re-heating at dinner time. Actually, if you are cooking for an evening meal, just start at 1p.m. and come and get it when it’s time to eat.

–Partly cloudy days. I found that cooking was quite effective without full sun, as long as the sun obliges by showing up intermittently.

–Cook anytime between 9 am and 3 pm. While cooking is most intense when the sun is directly overhead, it works from 9-3 pretty effectively. Turning the Cookit for precise solar alignment is not required, though it may enhance heating somewhat. So, you can just face the stove due south and it will work fine. Therefore, you can leave for work for the day and come home to dinner.

I am astounded that this is actually easier than cooking in a kitchen. No hovering, no stirring, no attention needed. Just throw food in and wait.

What I’m wondering…

How can I cook pasta in this? How about dried beans?
Can I cook “big hunk” things, like whole potatoes, or whole chickens?

So while I’m pushing the boundaries of solar cooking, you can get your own cooker and try it for yourself:

Solar Cooker International
Solar Cookers International spreads solar cookers and solar cooking technologies to benefit people and environments. I ordered my Cookit from them:
How to build/design a solar box cooker
Home made solar cookers using windshields.

2 thoughts on “Solar Potatoes (and more) with Joan”

  1. Joan, you inspired me awhile ago and I’m now a fan. I did cook garbanzo beans after soaking them overnight. I lost the sun before they were done, however, so had to finish them up stovetop. But if I’d gotten them out earlier, think it would’ve sorked. Next I’m groing to try a goat stew!

  2. Nana has done well cooking with this solar outfit but she seems to hit the brandy/or add a little too much while cooking on the roof which has raised some practical concerns. I have to stand close to the ladder to make sure everything is going okay. But, she really loves cooking solar on the roof. We now have all of our meals cooked on the roof but the only problem is a couple days we didn’t have any sun and then, oh well, some raccoons were hungry so we are feeding the local animals… not a bad thing… but you know …bones scattered all over the roof…kind of a clean up problem…

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