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Cooking with a solar oven — Fun with benefits!

solar oven 3_VNBy N. R. Mallery

At the time of this writing, we are in the midst of a heat wave and drought here in Vermont and in much of the Northeast. I live in a passive solar home that is designed to keep the heat in or out, according to season. Nevertheless, I try to work with whatever weather I get. I got a new solar oven about nine months ago. The present weather has given me more opportunity to use my solar oven, and use it I have.

I can keep my coffee heated or steep some tea at breakfast time. It works great to cook up eggs as long as you are not in a super hurry. I like to use last night’s leftover veggies with eggs, add some pesto, and put it all into a small oiled iron skillet or bowl. I simply put it into the solar oven on my deck. I might add some cooked sweet potatoes in another oiled pan to round out the breakfast and then go about morning chores. About 15 minutes before the eggs are done I might add some shredded cheese. When it’s done,add some sliced peaches and blueberries for a gourmet breakfast or brunch by mid-morning. If I want something simple, cooking oatmeal is easy. Or if you want something ready-made for breakfast, you can bake your own granola.

Lunchtime is perfect for using the solar oven. I like to heat up a frozen flat bread pizza, possibly over a bed of asparagus that has been coated with olive oil and garlic. Or I might try my specialty of a tortilla shell that has been oiled on both sides; I top it with shredded cheese, pesto, tomato sauce, leftover kale and veggies and put it all in the solar oven until it’s done. Fold the tortilla, slice up some fresh fruit, veggies or a salad, and voilà – a lunch fit for queens!

Let’s talk about dinner, which requires cooking while the sun is shining strongly. Recently I cooked up a marinated portobello mushroom with roasted sweet potatoes and some veggies. It was yummy. I’ve also cooked up rice and salmon, this summer. To roast garlic, take a fall bulb, snip off the top and place on parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil over the garlic. Wrap the parchment paper and garlic bulb with foil, and toss it into the solar oven alongside your meal.

Last winter I enjoyed cooking winter squash and roasted vegetables, baked potatoes, baked apples or heating up some chili or hot mulled cider to enjoy after an afternoon of cross country skiing.

A solar cooked meal: Portobello with sweet potatoes and cauliflower

A solar cooked meal: Portobello with sweet potatoes and cauliflower

The solar oven does require thinking ahead, because it generally takes a little bit longer to cook your food. And if it’s partly cloudy, it can interfere with the whole process. It’s important to keep an eye on the temperature and adjust the oven to face the sun so the food cooks appropriately. With a little experience, you can learn to adjust the heat by changing the angle of the solar oven.

As fun as this all is, I have definitely learned to appreciate the extra value and independence that my solar oven gives me. Not cooking indoors this summer adds a bit to help to keep my home cooler. It’s an ideal option to use in the summer, but can be used year-round.

I personally use a Solavore Sport brand solar oven. Other members of my family have other types — one son has a foldable model, one son also has a Solavore oven, and my daughter has a super heavy duty model. I would definitely recommend a solar oven. It’s just plain fun and works well without fossil fuels. One downfall is that you need the sun to be shining to use it.

By George Harvey

I got my solar oven last winter also. The first thing I did with it was to cook spaghetti squash. It was February, and the high temperature for the day was about 27º F. The squash took most of the day to cook in the weak sunshine, but it was done before dusk.

Cooking with the sun in the winter requires a bit of thought. Heavy meals with lots of water, such as stews, might prove too hard to heat. On the other hand, many kinds of meals could do quite well.

I share my stove with a neighbor, who uses it more frequently than I do. Her approach to life is very frugal, and she clearly thought buying a solar stove would be wasteful, because she had made her own from cardboard and reflective foil in the past. She clearly likes the Solavore Sport oven we use, however, as she uses it frequently; I have not seen her old home-made cooker recently.

The solar oven can be used for just about anything that could be cooked in a crockpot. It has the advantage that it uses no electricity. But it also can be used for other heating. It is good for baking certain things, and I have been told this includes some kinds of bread, though I have not tried it yet. It can also be used for pasteurizing things, which is an easy job for a solar oven, because it only requires 145º F for thirty minutes.

You cannot use a solar oven any time you want, because the sun does not always shine. But when the sun shines, it is always worth considering.

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