This year I won “Grand Champion Yeast Bread” at the Montana State Fair. But I did it without baking it in a conventional oven. So how did I do it? I used a solar oven, which harnesses the power of the Sun to do all the cooking and baking. Do they really work, you ask? The fancy blue ribbon tells it all.
The Magic of the Sun
I am officially a solar oven fanatic. From brownies to bacon, if the Sun is out, I’m cooking something on the front porch. My recent yeast bread confirms practically anything can be done in it, and the best part is, I can reduce our heat and energy consumption and costs. Plus, I can cook while doing other things without worrying about overcooking or burning the food.
The solar oven, which is a deceptively simple black box with a clear lid and detachable reflectors, has been a lifesaver. Since we live in the land of perpetual winter (Montana), we don’t have air conditioning. So when temps soar into the 90s during the summer, which they often do, the last thing my family wants me to do is to turn on the oven to cook dinner. And while an occasional bowl of Raisin Bran is the perfect warm-weather meal, feeding my family without turning on any kitchen appliances can be a little challenging. This is where the solar oven is a perfect answer.
Not long ago, I was craving something chocolatey. It was the search-through-the-cupboards -looking-for-anything-type situation, and I decided what I really wanted was a pan of brownies. But it was beastly hot and I didn’t want to heat up the house just for my chocolate fix, so I decided to try baking them in the solar oven. They took nearly twice as long, 40 minutes instead of 25, but they were the perfect texture and consistency, and absolutely hit the spot. They were a hit with my family as well.
The other aspect I absolutely adore about the solar oven is its forgiving nature. You really can’t burn anything. And since I’m what you call a distracted cook, having a cooking method that I can forget about, while not ruining a meal or burning down the house, is a godsend. This is true for anything from meat to roasted vegetables.
I can put chicken or ribs in the black enamel pots and set them inside the solar oven, then go work in the garden, write, or work on projects with the boys. Hours will pass before it hits me that there is something in there. Yet, all is well, and it’s ready whenever I am. Plus it makes fantastic food that does not dry out. I tell people all of the time that I will not make ribs in the oven again. I don’t care how “low and slow” I cook them in the gas oven, they’re always tough and dry. When I put them in the solar oven, and practically forget about them, they turn out fall-off-the-bone tender and with terrific flavor. It’s like nature’s slow cooker!
I also like the fact that we can take it car camping with us. Granted, I’m not going to strap it to my backpack and hike up the mountain, but since it’s the size of a small cooler, and it has a nifty carrying case, I can pop it in the back of the car with all of the other gear so we can make dinner (or dessert) without the concern of burning down the forest, which is a distinct reality for us most summers. Plus, I don’t have to be stuck at camp babysitting the food. I can put together whatever we want to have for dinner, set it inside of the solar oven, and go fishing or hiking. And the tantalizing smells of good food cooking greets us when we return.
How Solar Ovens Work
Sunlight hits the oven through specially designed panels. The dark interior, pots, and lids absorb the light, transforming the Sun’s energy into heat. This heat is then trapped inside, in a “greenhouse” effect. Foods cook in this environment (from 200º F to 300º F), although oven temperatures will vary based on the season and angle of the Sun, your latitude (closer/further from the equator), time of day, and how often you re-aim your oven to the moving Sun’s rays. After a couple of times using your oven, you’ll know exactly what to expect.
What I initially thought was a novel way of cooking is turning out to be a new way of going about it on a daily basis, and I’m looking forward to making this my year-round method of meal prep, and saving money at the same time.