Solar Cooking, A Primer : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

The following is a bi-monthly column printed in Home Power Magazine and posted here with their blessings and permission.

Home & Heart.....Solar Cooking

By Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze

I can see the sun shining outside as I work at my desk. Time to get out the solar cookers and wash them up. Theyll be ready for the sun, and will make my life easier. I love having dinner ready without having to spend time in the kitchen right after work.

Models and Types There are a variety of solar cookers available at a variety of prices. I prefer the multiple reflector models at my latitude. My absolute favorite is Sam Erwins Solar Chef. (See H&H issues 60 & 44) Coming in a close second is the Burns Milwaukee Sun Oven. Both of these cookers are ultra sturdy and can be left out in the weather. Box cookers with a single reflector are inexpensive, prolific and most effective closer to the equator. They are difficult to deal with in a windy area. However, they are a popular choice for a lot of people. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California holds a Box Cooker Marathon every year on the front lawn of the state capitol. For a really inexpensive efficient multiple reflector cooker that you can assemble in a day from mostly recycled materials, Id have to choose Joseph Radabaughs SunStar cooker. Recently revised and updated, his book Heavens Flame gives detailed, illustrated instructions on how to build the cooker. There is also an outline of points to consider if you are going to design your own solar cooker. Joseph also gives cooking tips, the history of solar cooking and details people and developments in the field. My first SunStar cooker cost me $3.57 to make and my second one was only $2.50. These cardboard cookers will cook at the same high temperatures as the production model Burns-Milwaukee oven. Lastly, there is the Parabolic cooker. I hear it is popular in India, but I have no experience with it. The parabolic cookers concentrate the heat onto a small area. They can get hot enough to pop popcorn or make espresso (Ive seen it!). I am nervous about any cooker that could start a fire if it fell over, so I dont have one of those.

Getting Started There is nothing complicated about solar cooking. Basically, you just have to jump in and do it. Its like learning to cook in a kitchen. You get better with practice. Ive heard that most people have twelve basic recipes that they cook. They may drop one and pick up another, but almost no one has the time to continually be cooking up new stuff. You can convert most of your favorites to solar recipes with a few caveats. Pasta does not cook well in a solar cooker. You can make lasagne by not cooking the noodles first. Just put them in dry and make the sauce a little soupier. Also, you cant fry foods, although any oven fry recipe will work. While any root vegetable is made for solar cooking, most above ground vegetables should just be steamed quickly in your kitchen. The exception is corn on the cob. Leave it in the husk or shuck it and place in a black cotton sock. Finally, something to do with those mateless socks.

Solar Cooking Hints Rule of thumb: when using your own recipes, figure two times the regular cooking time, (except for the Solar Chef, which cooks in real time). Of course, occasional clouds or wind will lengthen cooking times. Solar cooked food never gets burned onto pots. It heats evenly, without hot spots. It is hard to overcook a sun-cooked meal, (again, except for the Solar Chef). Do not put cheese on top of a casserole until you remove it from the solar oven. Then replace the lid til the cheese melts. Otherwise, it will have the consistency of Klingon armor. Safety equipment for the well dressed solar cook includes sun glasses, pot holders and a hat or visor. When opening the oven, keep your face back and use potholders. Steam and heat could cause injury. Always use lids on your pots and pans to avoid condensation which would limit the suns rays. If using jars painted black, be sure to poke a hole in the lid before you set the jar in the cooker. Before you open the jar of hot cooked food, be sure to clear that hole so any built up pressure can escape. If you will not be there to tend your oven, set it to focus on the sun between the hours of noon to 2:00PM. The food will be cooked and then kept warm as the sun moves out of focus. To easily find your focal direction, first find the place in your yard that is sunny most of the day and that can be easily accessed while carrying hot pots of food. Put a stick in the ground at that point. This can be as small as a chopstick. Go out at noon and put a rock on the end of the shadow. Go out at 2PM and put another rock on the end of the shadow. Between the two rocks you will find the best focal point. If you are cooking something large, or a lot of something, you will want to readjust your cooker throughout the day. This is done by standing behind your cooker and pointing it so that there is a slight shadow on the right hand side of the cooking area. This way, the sun will always be coming into focus, keeping the food at the maximum temperature, rather than unfocusing and lowering the temperature.

Converting Recipes Any food you cook in a conventional oven at 3500F for one hour or more can be cooked in a solar cooker by just changing the time. Consider cooking times as an estimate; just cook it til its done. Slow cooker recipes are perfect with out changing a thing. Sometimes you have to add a little more liquid, sometimes a little less. Play with it.

Access Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze is out in the sun cooking and gardening at her home in Northernmost California, c/o Home Power Magazine, PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520  530-475-0830  Email: kathleen.jarschke-schultze@ or Solar Chef: 220 Southridge Way, Grants Pass, OR 97527  541-471-6065  800-378-4189 Burns-Milwaukee Sun Ovens, 4010 W. Douglas Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53209  414-438-1234 FAX 414-438-1604 Box Cookers International, 1724 Eleventh St, Sacramento, CA 95814  916-444-6616 FAX 916-447-8689

Solar Cookbooks Solar Cooking Naturally, Sunlight Works, POB 3386, Sedona, AZ 86340  602-282-1344 Cooking with the Sun, Morning Sun Press, 1240 Quanolt Rd, Lafayette, CA 94549  510-932-1383  FAX 510-934-8277 Favorite Recipes From Solar Cooks, SMUD, 6201 S St, Box 15830, Sacramento, CA 95852 Morning Hill Cookbook, HC84, Izee Route, Canyon City, OR 97820 All the solar recipes in this wonderful natural foods cookbook are marked with a little sun. The author, Jennifer Stein-Barker, will soon be releasing an all solar cookbook. I highly recommend any of Jennifers books. This woman really knows how to cook. (This book is out, I got a copy from Jennifer at the Northwest Solar Energy Fair last weekend and it's got lots of great stuff in it DCK, 7/30/99)

-- Don Kulha (, August 18, 1999


Thanks for the article, very interesting. I didn't know about the Klingon cheese LOL.

My first successful solar cooking attempt involved a pot of pinto beans. Soaked the beans overnight, put in the black dutch oven in the solar cooker, cooked them all day, and enjoyed chalupas for dinner without heating up the stove a bit! So, I am sold. Here is the site where I got the plans for my solar cooker:

The one I made and am using is the "Cookit" foldable family panel. Very easy and cheap.

-- mommacarestx (, August 18, 1999.

I have a Solar Chef - got it late last year - and I love it. I have been baking bread in it all summer and it really does a good job. The advice about cheese is valid. I made eggplant parmesan last week with cheese on top and it was like leather. Next time, I'll know better. I've made banana nut bread, roast turkey breast, roasted rosemary new potatoes, etc. Y2k or not, I'm glad I've got it. Keeps the kitchen cool in the summer.

-- Kwint (, August 19, 1999.

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