Casaubon's Book

Hot? Cook Outside!

It is hot and sticky here – only low 80s, but humid. This afternoon we should have rain, but in the meantime the sun is shining and the very last thing I feel like doing is putting any dinner on anywhere near the house. We’re out of propane for the grill, and let’s be honest, it isn’t like it is local, homegrown propane. What’s a girl who likes dinner to do except move it outside? And my favorite way is out into to my solar oven.

I’ve made a lot of solar ovens over the years, and they all worked to one degree or another, so I’m kind of embarassed how much I love my Global Sun Oven, which, after all cost money (or would have if I hadn’t bartered for it). But it gets hotter faster, stays hotter longer, and best of all, doesn’t melt in the rain like most of my solar ovens. This is good, because as we all know, I’m kind of a slacker.

That said, however, I’ve eaten an awful lot of food in homemade solar ovens and it came out just fine. For those of us living in the north, now is peak season for solar cooking, and we might as well keep the heat out of the house and cook for free. Here’s a video that shows a homemade model and a chicken cooking:

Here’s how to make one homemade version that really does seem to work well even in my climate:

Solar cooking isn’t just good here – solar cookers make a huge difference for impoverished women who have to spend a lot of their time seeking firewood, who suffer from insufficient access or high cost access gas for cooking. Here’s more on that from a company that is trying to expand solar cooker access:

We cook just about anything you could imagine putting in a crockpot in the sun – beans, grains, stews, soups, anything. And when nothing else is in there it can be pre-heating water and heating it up for tea to put in a thermos for that evening.

My friend Chile is the most expert solar cooker I know – unlike me who only uses hers for five months a year, she can use it all the time in Tucson. I trust her advice – and I’ve been to her house and her cooking is fantabulous, and I never go wrong with her recipes.

Suggestions for getting started or troubleshooting your solar cooking:

Awesome solar cooking resources:

Super fantabulous solar cooker recipes:

To make sure you absolutely definitely follow the linkage, I’m including one of them here:

Garlicky breadsticks in a solar oven:

Garlicky Breadsticks
2 tsp yeast
2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water (~110 degrees)
1 cup whole wheat flour + more for kneading (I prefer to use the lighter whole white wheat.)
2 tbs nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp granulated onion (or onion powder)
1/8 tsp black pepper

Mix the yeast and sugar in a medium bowl.
Stir in the warm water until the yeast and sugar dissolve.
Let sit in a warm place for 10 minutes until the mixture is foamy.
Combine the flour and seasonings.
Add to the yeast mixture and stir until smooth.
Turn out onto a floured board and knead until the dough forms a soft ball that is no longer sticky. Be careful not to knead in so much flour that the dough becomes stiff.
Cut into 12 pieces and roll out into long thin breadsticks.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and place breadsticks on them.
Cover with a dishtowel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
Preheat a standard oven to 400 degrees and bake 8-10 minutes until golden brown.
Preheat solar ovens and check after 15-20 minutes depending on your conditions.

Oh, and a big thanks to my friend Bernard who pointed out that you can hardboil eggs in a solar cooker – without any water! Who knew?



  1. #1 mpatter
    June 24, 2010

    It is okay to own things that other people have made, you know… we don’t have to destroy the concept of a trading society all at once.

  2. #2 Claire
    June 24, 2010

    I have a commercially-made sun oven also. It works quite well; on a cloudless day, with it aimed correctly, I can get it hot enough to bake bread (330-350F).

    I have to admit we don’t use ours as much as we could. The DH is primary cook, and he’s the sort of cook who prefers to wait till about the last minute to start cooking because he’s engrossed in something else that fascinates him. I need to figure out how to help him think ahead long enough to use the cooker more. That said, when I remember, I cook pots of rice in it – they don’t need much attention from me, and my DH can then do the stir-fry veggies or other quick-cooking veggie dish on his schedule.

  3. very interesting idea πŸ™‚

  4. #4 Sharon Astyk
    June 25, 2010

    I don’t need reassurance about owning things others have made, but I do buy new things cautiously and reluctantly, because of the environmental cost of any kind of new construction, and I am very careful about when I advise my readers to spend a lot of money. A global sun oven costs several hundred dollars, and I’d rather someone confirm that they are going to use it before they go out and buy one.


  5. #5 mpatter
    June 25, 2010

    Thanks for clearing up your position there Sharon, you give great advice as ever. πŸ™‚

  6. #6 Greenpa
    June 25, 2010

    I once made a disparaging remark about real-world usefulness of solar cooking, and Sharon came down on me like a ton of bricks. In a very nice way. πŸ™‚

    And it’s clear to me now, having been enlightened (by a ton of bricks; interesting irony) that solar cooking has real, and large, utility; in many places.

    But- (you knew that was coming-:-) ) I would really like to know more about how people cope with the need for a cooked meal- when it’s raining. Or turns cloudy unexpectedly, halfway through the schedule, and the beans are not edible yet.

    Most of us, of course, can just bring it inside, and put it on the range. For me, that would involve walking carefully with a hot pot for 100 yards; at least. I’ve got all these dang trees around me, and that’s how far I have to go to get to open sky.

    I know; even in the 3rd world, folks have back-up; some twigs, a little charcoal. It can be done.

    I’d just really like to hear some good anecdotes about coping with “solar failure”, when you’ve got 3 hours of cooking time planned, and 6 people to feed (on a schedule). Anybody out there ever threatened to stuff a kid into the solar cooker when they’re hanging around moaning that they’re starving, and you just found out the sun disappeared a half hour ago, while you were working on the blog in the basement?


  7. #7 Claire
    June 26, 2010

    Greenpa, I’ve had to use the electric oven a time or two when I’d started baking bread in my solar oven with the expectation that the sky would remain mostly cloudless … and it didn’t. But I only have to go about 25-50 feet or so from the kitchen to get good solar access, not the distance you do, so I don’t have the issue you do with carrying a hot pot a long way.

    About the only thing I can suggest is careful attention to the weather forecast for the day, *before* you get set up for solar cooking. Look at your nearest NWS office website and go to the Forecast Discussion item to get a much-more detailed forecast than they put out to the public. You might find that you can get an idea from the discussion of when the clouds are apt to roll in, and plan your cooking accordingly. Also if you have a feel for how weather patterns generally work in your area, you can plan cooking around them. I’m much more likely to have clear or nearly clear conditions in the morning than in the afternoon, for instance, unless a front on the way affects the normal expectations.

    Speaking of which, I got two loaves of bread baked (at the same time) in my solar cooker over late morning and early afternoon today, while the sky was still pretty clear … just in time to mention my success here ;-). Since my attempt to make a solar cooker failed miserably, I’m glad to have the purchased one. It’s already proven useful; I just need to persevere more to make it even more useful than it has been.

  8. #8 gen
    June 27, 2010

    The GSO does cost about $250. A little more, a little less, depending on where you get yours. However, the savings in direct energy usage (cost of your gas or electricity) and indirect energy usage (how much more AC/fans, etc did you use cooling down your kitchen after cooking dinner?) will soon pay for it. You also have polluted a little less, and learned a new skill.

  9. #9 Sharon Astyk
    June 28, 2010

    Sure, Gen, there’s a payback, and it probably doesn’t take too long. The question is whether it is worth buying a GSO or making your own, and I’d say that probably comes down to how handy you are. If you can make a good one, it may not be worth it. If you are going to make a pizza box one, and you can afford the GSO, you’ll find the GSO way more effective and less annoying. But if what you can afford is a pizza box solar oven, those have their virtues.

    Greenpa, I’ve had to switch to the hot pot in the oven, and it is a bit of a pain, although again, a much shorter walk for me. I find it helpful to use the forecast (although this means that sometimes I don’t use the solar oven when I could, becuase the rain or clouds don’t come). If you can get morning sun, but not afternoon sun, a haybox set up is a good thing – it will keep the heat from the solar cooker going. And I’ve never threatened to stick the kids in the solar oven (although they have whined due to delays) but now that you’ve given me the idea… πŸ˜‰

    The reality is that the further north and east you live (barring the PNW) in the US, the less use you will get out of your solar cooker. But I still think the return on mine is sufficient to justify it, but it might not be everywhere. I certainly think for almost anywhere south of me, this is going to be a hugely valuable thing.


  10. #10 stripey_cat
    June 30, 2010

    Does anyone know how much further north you can push your luck with one? Even just for summer preserving? (Not waterbaths, obviously, but boiling jam and chutneys). I’m in Oxfordshire, England, which I think puts me somewhere around 51 N.

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