My First Attempts at Solar Cooking

I tried solar cooking for the first time last Tuesday afternoon.  Let's just say things didn't go so well.  Five major lessons learned:

1) Prime solar cooking time is between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  (It's not likely going to work so well if you start cooking after 3:30 p.m.).

2) You need a clear day to be successful at solar cooking.  (In my defense, there were hardly any clouds in the sky when I started).

3) If you are going to attempt solar cooking, start with a simple, non-temperature dependent food like rice, water, or cinnamon apples.  (Rolls aren't such a good choice for the first time because they might rise and then fall when temperatures drop because of  incoming clouds.   In fact, I'd recommend waiting to try baking until you've master basic solar-cooking skills).

4) Solar cooking is like crock-pot cooking.  You should choose foods that cook well at low and slow temperatures.

5) Small food pieces cook more quickly than large ones.

My first attempt, as you might have reconstructed from my comments above, was rolls.  This was a huge mistake because I didn't know anything about solar cooking.  Yet.  I tried starting them at 3:30 p.m. with rolling clouds in the sky.  The attempt was aborted around 4:30 when those clouds blocked the sun and the internal temps starting decreasing instead of increasing and the perfectly risen rolls fell.

The next day I attempted brownies (with powdered eggs to ensure safety).  I also modified my solar cooker design (watch for more information about this modified design), started earlier in the day and made sure the sky was completely clear of clouds.  After two hours, we had yummy brownies that were almost done.  My third attempt was baked apples started right after the brownies.  At this point, I abandoned the internal temperature probe and just let them cook.  They were tender and delicious after three hours or so.  The sugar had not caramelized though - just dissolved.

My most recent attempt was potatoes.  I put them into the solar cooker around 10:30 a.m. and let them cook all day.  I pulled them out just before dinner and was rewarded with billows of steam and a wonderful rich smell of rosemary and dill.  The potatoes were definitely done.  My only complaint is that the top layer of potatoes darkened and didn't look very appetizing.  A little research reassured me that this was normal and they were completely safe to eat.



Judy Justice said...

Thanks for sharing the success and failure. I live in the cloudy side of Washington State. It is clear that it would take alot for solar cooking to work for me. Glad it is a possibility for you!

Wendy said...

There are definitely some areas where solar cooking would never work - and unfortunately Washington is one of them.

Does the spontaneous erruption of berries on the sides of the road there make up for the lack of sun? We weren't in Washington, but near the Oregon coast and loved walking the roads and picking blackberries as we went.

Julene said...

I have a Global Sun Oven and have cooked in it for about 2 years and I am so frustrated with all the cloudy weather. I have wanted to perfect my bread but with all the clouds my bread falls before it can cook all the way. Here is to more sun!!!

Wendy said...

Julene, I'd love to hear when you get your bread to cook without falling. I tried skipping the final raise when I did my rolls, but the cooker wouldn't heat up enough even past that raise time (also complicated by the clouds and late start time). I wonder if it would work better with frozen or chilled dough.

Julene said...

The last time I tried bread I let it rise just to the top of the pan and it was still raising and cooking just fine in the sun oven until the clouds came in. It wasn't until I took it out to finish it in the house that it fell. So I think it was the taking it out of the oven that let it fall. Bread is on my list for tomorrow's to do list. Wish me luck!

Wendy said...

Good luck! I'd love to hear if it works.

Julene said...

The bread worked and it is probably the best loaf I have made in the last 3 years! It was light, fluffy and perfect. I let the bread rise in my house until it came just to the top of the pan. I then put it in my sun oven, which was at 350 degrees, and I misted it with water and let bake for about 40 minutes. It was so delicious!!

Wendy said...

So glad that your bread worked! Now, I need to be brave and retry it in my windshield shade cooker.