Mmmm! My first home-cooked solar meal.
The other day, being Easter, seemed like a perfect day to set up the cooker for a test run. As I mentioned previously, when I set up the unit the first time, the window-shade was so flexible that it had trouble standing up, much less resisting wind. So, as you can see, the oven now sports a cardboard shell which I attached with vel-cro and safety pins for ease of disassembly. It’s not as pristine as the older version, but it DOES work.
Initially, I placed my oven thermometer in the oven bag without a pot, and put everything in the sun at 11:50 am to see what would happen (right picture above). Twenty minutes later, the temperature showed 175° F! Wow! Another 15 minutes, and the temperature was… 150°? Hmmm, I did remember reading that it was the black pot, not the cooking bag, that created heat. Next, I went to the store to buy a round black baking pan to use as a top for my pot (or, in this case, the bottom), and by 2pm, everything was ready to actually COOK something.
Since the satisfaction of success seemed critical, I chose to stick with an oldie-but-goodie food staple, grilled cheese sandwiches. At 2:10 pm, I stacked two sandwiches in the pot and put them out. The temperature still registered at 150°, placed in front of the oven bag. By the time I came out to check on everything 15 minutes later, they were done! Pop them off onto a plate, and a quick wipe of the non-stick surface, and preparation and clean-up were finished. Now that’s my kind of cooking.
After the success of Easter, which convinced even my skeptical friend that this COULD work, I set out to cook something a little more ambitious. Today’s menu: carrots. I’m reading a book on solar food drying right now (you’ll be seeing a review here very soon), which listed carrots on the “great for drying” list. Well, the processes for cooking and dehydrating are a little different, but I had some carrots that needed immediate love, so I figured I’d just see how things went if I dumped chopped carrots into a pan and put them out sans water.
Result? Mixed. This time, I put everything out at about 12:30 pm, and left it there for about 45 minutes to an hour. The pot tipped off its stand once somewhere along the way, and I set everything up in a new location, which didn’t seem to get as much light, even though there were no shadows obstructing anything. So I compensated by keeping a better eye on the oven and rotating it a little over time. It didn’t seem like the pans were quite as hot to touch when I took them off the “burner”. When I opened up the bag, the smell was WONDERFUL. A big billow of warm steam that smelled like veggie soup. That alone let me declare the experiment a success. The food itself? Not very cooked (the carrots were still crunchy, though they were softer), but overall, good flavor. If I’d had longer to wait around the house today, I think they’d have softened up just fine. Next time, I’ll add a little water, too.
So, there you have it. Not a total success, but enough so to keep me very motivated toward refining this whole solar thing. And it’s seriously gratifying for an afternoon’s work of setting everything up. Even if you’re a glutton for success, you CAN bring solar into your life today!