Thursday, June 2, 2011

Solar Cookery 101

 You know how when it gets really hot
 people talk about it being so hot
you can fry an egg on the sidewalk?

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

Well, lately at Casa Coco, we've been obsessed with the idea of cooking food by harnessing the sun. We don't actually fry on the sidewalks. Frankly, that doesn't seem very hygienic, does it? We have something else in mind. Think about how hot it gets in your car on a sunny day and you'll have some idea of the potential of the sun for cooking. (It's also a good lesson in remembering how vulnerable kids and animals are in closed cars ... even for a few minutes.)

First of all, you need a day like this one .....

And then you need a homemade solar cooker like this one that Mr. Coco made for us. It's sort of a coffin-like contraption, insulated around the sides and ideally lined with something black. We used fabric because there's lots of that around here. Ours has 2 pieces of plate glass (quite thick) to lie on top and completely cover the top of the box. There shouldn't be any gaps because then your heat will escape. Don't make the mistake of insulating with styrofoam like we did at first. We had trouble imagining how much heat could be generated and the styrofoam simply melted in spots. We have a layer of pink fibreglass in there now.

Here's the set-up with the box on our deck and all the mirrors arranged to concentrate the sun's rays. There is actually a mirror on both hinged pieces (front and back).We found some of them at GoodWill and some we scrounged. One was a gift from S&S who knew what we were up to and found a great one at a garage sale. It's important not to spend any money on this solar cooker because then everything you cook tastes better! :) As the sun moves in the sky, remember to adjust the mirrors so the light is reflected right onto your food.

So, you've got the cooker set up. What to cook? Well, on Tuesday we made Vegetable Biryani, an Indian dish made with rice. We put it together around noon hour and we think it was probably cooked by about 4 pm. Our deck gets a little shady by then so we just left the cooker closed and the trapped heat kept the food hot until we ate it at 5. (That's one of the downsides of solar cooking....You're really on the sun's schedule not your own.....No sun, no hot food.)

Cooked Vegetable Biryani & Asparagus

Vegetable Biryani Ready To Go in the Solar Cooker

As well, we cooked fresh asparagus from the garden. This time, we put some water in a clean, tall glass jar and put the lid on loosely. That went in the cooker around 2 o'clock and by 3 it was definitely right around the boiling point. We took off the lid and put in the asparagus and it was well cooked (maybe a little TOO cooked) by the time we ate.

We have done scallopped potatoes in a covered dark-coloured glass casserole, rice and oatmeal in glass jars, potatoes and carrots in glass jars (with very little water). Basically anything you'd put in a slow cooker you could cook this way but I'm wary of meat. There's no sense poisoning yourself even if it is in the name of science.

Cakes bake really well! Especially dark battered cakes like gingerbread and chocolate because the dark attracts the heat. Cookies are possible. Granola! We have also made pizza! Just heat up a cast-iron pan in there first and slide the pizza in place.

We are having lots of fun discovering what's possible with our cooker. There are only a few things to be careful about. First, the reflected light is powerful and you have to be cautious about your eyes. Good sunglasses are important. Second, even though this is our 3rd year playing with the cooker, it's still very hard to remember that it really does get hot! Keep your potholders handy.

Here in the Kingdom of Coco, solar cookery will never replace the electric stove. However, during the summer, when we get a perftect solar cooking day, it's lots of fun!


  1. I can vouch for the yumminess of food from your solar cooker. :) And I'm sure our mirror makes all the difference. :)


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