Solar Oven Cooking
I am far from the world’s greatest cook. I am really only a mediocre cook at best, but I have found
that I really enjoy spending time in the kitchen. I am able to unwind from a busy day, filled with
either farm work or litigation and prepare a meal to share with my husband.
During our first year at Straight Creek we did little more than eat out of a cooler, but once we had
the cabin roof over our heads, I was able to cook on a Coleman two burner stove. It was then
that I realized how then much I really loved to cook, for you see, the heat from the burners
warmed my hands. We did not yet have insulation in the cabin’s walls and we only had plastic in
the window openings, so the cabin stayed quite chilly. I recall that when the outside temperature
dropped to twenty degrees, our kerosene heater would boost the cabin’s inside temperature up
to a frosty forty five. Thus I developed my love for the little Coleman stove. I happily stirred pots
of rice and pasta over one burner, and canned vegetables, soup or stew on the other. And then,
after dinner, I would boil pot of hot water for tea.
The next summer my garden flourished and with the fresh produce I learned as many ways as
possible to cook tomatoes, zucchini, summer and acorn squash, and beans. I recently tried
canning what I grow, but it is not yet high on my list of things to do. I find freezing things far
easier. I have also learned the importance of keeping an eye on husband Greg. I might be
planning a tomato and cucumber salad for diner, only to pass by the garden and find Greg,
searching out the most perfect tomato so he can eat it right on the spot.
Towards the end of our second summer, after we installed the solar panels, we purchased the
smallest low wattage microwave oven we could find. I was then able to cook potatoes and squash
by microwaves powered by the sun. It seems somewhat decadent to use the microwave oven,
but when I consider that the microwaves have derived their energy from the sun, I don‘t feel quite
so unnatural. I was describing my microwave ambivalence to my parents, during a visit to New
Hampshire, when my father went into his office and came out with a real solar oven. It was at
least twenty years old, but was still in its original packing. It was made of cardboard lined with foil
and had a simple folding design that opened up to direct the sun into its center. My parents had
used it years before and spoke lovingly of the delicious brown rice they had cooked in this simple
I happily transported the little solar oven back to Ohio. Greg read the manual that came along
with it and disappeared into our city basement. For the next week, while I unwound from my
litigation filled days and cooked dinner in our city kitchen upstairs, Greg made a few trips to the
hardware store, and created a solar oven in the basement downstairs. This is what he built but If
you would like to check out some other designs, visit solarovens.org and solarcooking.org.
The oven is made out of galvanized metal sheets, usually used for duct work and easily
purchased at any hardware store. The inside is lined with one inch thick Styrofoam, also
purchased in sheets from the hardware store. The face of the oven is a sheet of plexiglass set at
an angle, to better catch the sun. There is a door that opens from the back, so the food can be
placed inside. Four large wings, that fold down over the oven’s face for storage, can be
arranged for maximum sun reflection while cooking. The oven measures approximately two and a
half feet square and weighs less than fifteen pounds. Ease of transport is important, for the oven
often needs to be moved during the relatively long cooking process, in order to catch the best
I wish that I could tell you that I have developed a book of solar oven recipes, but I have not done
so yet. To check out some solar oven recipes, visit cookwiththesun.com
Remember that I am far from a gourmet cook, but solar oven cooking is really no different than
cooking in a crock pot. Just toss in the ingredients and wait several hours! I have since made
bread, stew, rice and other dishes in the oven. But let me share my first, very non-gourmet, ever
so simple recipe story.
Towards the end of the summer, we were invited to a fish and turtle fry by our neighbors Clyde
and Loretta. Everyone was to bring along a side dish. I decided to try baking some
banana/applesauce bread in my brand new solar oven. My recipe was this:
- one box of Jiffy Mix banana bread
- one box of Jiffy Mix cinnamon apple bread
- two eggs
- one third cup of apple sauce
- one third cup of milk
I thoroughly mixed all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. I then poured the batter into a well
greased iron pot. I next set the pot in the center of the oven. I carefully arranged the oven’s
reflective wing flaps so that there was maximum sun reflection on the pot and I finally stepped
back, set to chopping wood, and patiently waited for the bread cook!
I had read that it is helpful to solar cook with cast iron cook ware, for the black iron readily
absorbs the sun’s rays. The temperature on the day of the fish and turtle fry was a cool end of
summer sixty degrees. The sun was often obscured by clouds, but within half an hour the
temperature inside the oven had reached two hundred and fifty degrees. When the sun came
out from behind the clouds the temperature would quickly approach two hundred and seventy five
degrees, but the cloud cover always quickly returned. I started cooking at one o’clock in the
afternoon. I took the bread out of the oven at four thirty, when a wooden tooth pick inserted in
the middle came out clean. I packed up the pot and we hurried over to Clyde and Loretta’s.
I set the iron pot out on their heavily laden pot luck table. I laid a large spoon beside it. I simply
did not have any other serving utensils, but the spoon turned out to be perfect. The bread had a
bread pudding sort of consistency. It had risen, but it was still somewhat heavily textured, though
it tasted great. Every last spoonful was eaten, as were all of the fish and turtle that Clyde and
Loretta had cooked up. I smiled to see people go back for more of that “bread pudding“.
Well that summer quickly turned to fall and I set the solar oven aside, but the next year when our
gray Ohio winter turned into blue skied spring I got that solar oven out into the upper field again.
My next solar cooked dish was an iron pot filled with delicious brown and wild rice. It took about
four and a half hours to cook, but the individual kernels plumped up to wonderful tasty morsels
that I shared with our hundred or so guests at our farm party. And yes, I called my parents as
soon as the last guest left so that I could assure them that my solar oven cooks up as good a
batch of rice as they remember.
I have since cooked stews and chili, first browning the meat on the stove. A no rise bread recipe
using simply flour, salt and yeast produced an amazingly delicious bread. We ate the whole loaf
in one sitting!
I think that in my spare time, although I do not know what spare time is, I might just order some
solar cooking recipe books from solarcooking.org/books, and then I'll be able to come up with
some truly delectable goodies to cook up whenever the sun shines!
Straight Creek Valley Farm