07 October 2007
A solar oven uses reflected sunlight to cook your food. There are several designs around for handy people to make but mine was purchased from an alternative energy shop. It works by reflecting sunlight into an insulated, glass topped oven cavity. Other types use a parabolic mirror to concentrate sunlight to a focal point, where you place the pot. Both can be used to roast, boil and bake anything from bread to rice and beans to a full roast dinner. I think the insulated cavity type is more versatile as you can cook more than one type of food at a time, just like a regular oven.
Solar ovens work best on sunny days and as the the instruction manual says â€œThe solar cooker does not work at nightâ€! In winter I can cook from 10am to about 2.30pm and in summer from 9am to about 3.30pm. It saves a lot of energy to cook dinner in the solar oven and then heat it up later.
To get it going is easy. Put it in a place where sun will be on it the whole time you are cooking. Lift the lid and adjust it so that the reflection from the mirror is shining directly onto the oven cavity. Once the oven is warm, place the tray or pot into the oven cavity and close the glass lid. Now wander off and do some gardening or relax with a book in a shady spot. You won't need to check it as often as a regular oven, as the cooking happens much more slowly â€“ it takes a long time to burn! A loaf of bread takes about 2 hours but the slower, more gentle cooking process gives it something that can't be replicated in a conventional oven. The solar cooked bread doesn't last long around here!
Rice and stews take a bit longer, maybe 3 hours, depending on the day. Rice is very easy â€“ just measure the exact amount of water and rice, pop a lid on and place it in the oven. With stews and curries you'll need to add less water or stock than you are used to because the liquid doesn't reduce while cooking.
Solar ovens are very safe and reliable. There are few parts and those parts that can break (by dropping the unit, not by normal use) can be easily replaced. The oven doesn't get very hot on the outside, you won't burn yourself touching the oven â€“ but you will need a potholder to lift out the contents. It is easy to clean â€“ just give it a quick wipe while the unit is still warm.
There are so many advantages to cooking with a solar oven:
* No ongoing resource use â€“ no use of electricity, gas or wood to cook.
* Cook small batches as economically as large batches.
* No pollution resulting from ongoing use â€“ no carbon emissions, no smoke.
* No heat in the kitchen â€“ great in summer.
* Portable â€“ you can take it camping or picnicking.
* Useful in emergencies â€“ no fuel or power needed. You can even use it to pasteurise water.
Overall the biggest advantage for us is that I can cook dinner and garden at the same time â€“ the oven is outside, so I can check on it whenever I walk past. By the time I have worked up an appetite in the garden, dinner is ready.
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