Solar Cooking at PICA

On October 9, 2011, thanks to the PICA Program, 15 of us enjoyed a lovely SUNNY day experimenting with Solar Cooking in the PICA Commons. I enlisted fellow solar cooking maven, Ann Shelley to assist, and between us we had five different solar cookers to experiment with. These ranged from fancy (kind of expensive) manufactured varieties, to one made from a foil lined windshield shade! (Alas, we did not have a pizza box cooker, which has some good reports.) We baked ginger snap cookies and soft pretzels for noshing. We also did research with boiling water in quart canning jars, cooking carrots, asparagus and eggs in dry and wet environments in each cooker and we charted the results. All but the windshield cooker achieved success in cooking the test items eventually and everyone thought it would cook with a little tweaking to get the angles right for maximizing the sun, and the cooking chamber right, for capturing the heat (we used an inflated clear Baking Bag).

For many links, comments, and photos I invite you to visit our class site:

Solar cookers work on the same kinds of timing as a crock pot. Slow…or slower.

In our hottest solar oven, cookies baked in 20 minutes, slightly less than twice what they would have required in a preheated, purchased fuel oven. In other ovens, they took 45 minutes. All tasty in the end. So, like so many things, solar cooking is an exercise in preparation, forethought, and participation in your life as a part of the earth’s natural day.

For we, the privileged, there is choice in cooking fuels. In many parts of the world there is only wood, and that resource is becoming scarce, its use a burden on the environment. For the women (it is truly mostly the women) who trek miles to get the wood, to stoop over the fire and breathe the smoke, to cook daily their families basic grain or bean or kernel, solar ovens are a lifesaver.

Our PICA class was a visceral exploration and discovery of what this earth offers the attuned. It is a full tilt delight to go off in the morning to work or play, with a pot of beans, or casserole, in a solar cooker pointed at the hottest spot of the day (that’s where the awareness comes  in), and come home to have them ready to eat and still hot. Which is what I did for our Barley Tofu dinner last week.

Barley Tofu

½ cup pearled barley

8 ounces (or more) sliced mushrooms (optional, but delish)

1 ½ cups water

1 pound medium/soft tofu

⅛ cup olive oil

1 packet dry onion soup or onion dip mix

pinch paprika

In a wide (skillet sized) baking casserole with lid, put the barley, mushrooms and water. Slice the tofu onto this, drizzle over it the olive oil, sprinkle over dry onion soup/dip packet, then paprika, cover and bake.

Solar: 4 hours at peak sun

Gas or Electric Oven: 350 degrees, 2 hours.

Catherine Banghart and her husband, David, have been living off-grid and experimenting with solar cookers   for 28 years. All of their electricity is from solar panels with battery storage.


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