“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow them.” ~Louisa May Alcott
The sun is the primary source of all energy on earth. Without it, there would be no food and no life. We tend to take the sun’s energy for granted, especially here in Arizona where we have an overabundance of sunshine.
Many people around the world use the sun as a renewable power supply. Solar cooking is one way to utilize this unlimited resource. Cooking with sunlight doesn’t require fuel, it doesn’t produce smoke, it doesn’t leave ashes, it doesn’t cause a fire hazard, and it doesn’t heat up the kitchen. It’s dependable, it’s clean, it’s free, it’s easy and it’s fun!
A solar oven is relatively simple to make. Basically all you need is a box (about one foot deep) with an aluminum foil interior, a clear glass or plastic cover, and a reflective backdrop (such as a large piece of aluminum-covered cardboard). Two boxes, one inside the other, with crumpled newspaper inbetween will help keep heat in. Cut the box’s sides at a slant so the back is higher than the front. This will allow the sun to shine in without having to tip the box at an angle (and thus spill the food). Experiment with your own design.
Foods are best cooked in a black pot to absorb the heat. Cast iron works great. If you don’t have a glass top for your solar oven, you can use glass-covered pots to capture the sun’s rays. Heat-resistant plastic oven bags also work well. Don’t use shiny pots or aluminum foil wrap.
Foods you can cook in a solar oven include: potatoes, rice, beans, vegetables (no water needed), hot dogs, fish, chicken, pizzas, nachos, frozen bread dough, cookies, brownies, and s’mores. Keep in mind that cooking times will be twice as long as conventional methods, but you won’t have to worry about the food burning or overheating.
Solar cookers can be used for six months of the year in northern climates and year-round in desert or tropical locations. Solar ovens work best with full sun between 10:00 am – 2:00 pm, although in Arizona those hours can be extended. The reflector will need to be adjusted and the oven will need repositioning from time to time to keep the sun shining directly on the food.
Caution: Temperatures in a solar oven can reach 200-425 degrees F, so wear oven mitts and don’t burn yourself. Also, don’t look directly at reflected sunlight.
Make a “Pringle” Can Cooker
1. Eat all of the potato chips in a Pringles canister. Wipe out the inside. Notice that the interior is lined with foil, which is perfect for reflecting sun rays. A solar cooker with a curved shape like this is called a parabolic trough.
2. Cut a long slit from one end of the canister to the other, leaving about 1 inch closed at each end. Now cut a slit “across” each end of the first slit, about 1 inch on either side of it. Gently pull open both sides of the long slit so that the sun can shine into the canister.
3. Punch a hole through both ends of the can (the metal bottom and the plastic lid). Push a skewer (or unpainted wire coat hanger) through the metal end of the canister. Put a hotdog on the skewer. Put the plastic lid on the canister, and push the end of the skewer through the hole in the lid.
4. Set your cooker out in direct sunlight on a table, rock, or other object that is raised off the ground. (Hopefully where animals or insects won’t get at it!) Adjust the trough so that the sun is reflected onto the hot dog. Rotate the skewer periodically to heat the hot dog on all sides. You can also cook marshmallows and kabobs this way.
Build a Pizza Box Solar Oven
You will need: 1 pizza box from a local pizza store, tape or non-toxic glue, scissors, black construction paper, clear plastic, aluminum foil, wooden dowel or ruler.
1. Draw a border (at least one inch) around all four sides of the top of a pizza box. Cut along three sides leaving the line along the back of the box uncut.
2. Gently fold the flap back along the uncut edge to form a crease. Wrap the underside (inside) face of this flap with aluminum foil. Tape or glue it so that the foil is held smoothly and firmly with not too much tape showing on the foil side of the flap.
3. Open the box and line the bottom with black construction paper. Tape it along the edges.
4. Cut a piece of plastic an inch larger than the lid opening on the box top. Tape it on the underside of the lid opening. (Heavy plastic laminate works best, but if you must use plastic wrap, make sure it is pulled tight.)
5. Add another piece of plastic to the top of the lid opening. This creates an insulating layer of air to keep heat in the box.
Cooking Tips: This shallow solar oven is ideal for heating S’mores, English muffin pizzas, warming store-bought cookies or biscuits. It won’t get super hot, though, so you can’t bake or cook things in it. On a sunny day, take your pizza box oven outside. Lay a folded towel, blanket, or thick newspaper underneath the box for insulation. You may need to prop the oven up on one side so that it sits at an angle facing the sun directly. Place a treat inside the box. Open the reflective flap and use a dowel, ruler, or stick to adjust the flap so that it bounces sunlight into the box. (The shadow of the flap should go straight back from the back of the box.) Wait about a half hour, then you can enjoy your sun-warmed treat!
SIMPLE SOLAR RECIPES
Solar-Cooked Corn on the Cob
Wrap an ear of corn, with some inner leaves left on, in plastic wrap. Then place it inside a black sock – a clean one, please! Cook in solar oven until soft, unwrap, brush with butter, and sprinkle with salt.
Solar-Cooked Pinto Beans
Soak about 1/2 pound of pinto beans in water overnight. Drain the beans and add fresh water to cover the beans by about 1/2 inch. Add a pinch of salt, some chopped onion, a little garlic, and a slice of bacon if you like. Put this into a covered dark pot and cook all day in a solar oven. The beans are done when they are tender.
Combine 1-2 pounds beef stew meat (cut up into small pieces), 1 can (16 oz.) potatoes, 1 can (10 oz.) cream-of-tomato soup, 1 package dry onion soup mix, 1 can (7 oz.) peas (drained), and 1/3 cup ketchup. Bake in solar oven until done.
The following recipe is cooked outdoors in the sun but doesn’t require a solar oven:
Solar Fresh Tomato Sauce
- 4 large, fully ripe tomatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 smashed garlic cloves
- 30-40 fresh basil leaves, chopped
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3-4 twists of pepper mill
- About 4-5 hours before serving, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix together well. Place outdoors in full sun. Cover with cheesecloth or a mesh spatter lid. Stir every once in a while as the sun cooks the sauce. It is best when the temperature is at least 100 degrees. When done, use on top of freshly-cooked ziti or other pasta. Makes 2 servings.
Here is another recipe that cooks outside:
Hot Weather Yogurt
- 6 cups milk (skim for nonfat yogurt, whole milk for rich yogurt)
- 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon commercial yogurt (such as Yoplait or Dannon; plain or flavored is okay)
- You will also need a thermometer.Bring all ingredients except yogurt to a boil, stirring occasionally. (Keep watching it, or it will boil over.) Remove from heat at boiling point and cool to 105 degrees. Stir in the spoon of commercial yogurt. Divide the mixture into small custard dishes. Cover with plastic wrap. Put the covered dishes outside in a shaded area for 6-8 hours depending on how hot the day is and how solid you like your yogurt. During the hottest summer months, you can even make the yogurt in the evening. Put it out overnight and it will be done by morning. It tastes best if refrigerated before eating. Add granola, wheat germ, fruit, jelly, or any other flavoring to taste. Save a spoonful to make the next batch. Keeps in the refrigerator for more than a week. Makes six 8 oz. servings.
Try this solar experiment:
Fried Eggs on the Sunny Side(walk)
If you live in Arizona, you’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Take three eggs, two cast iron frying pans, and one piece of glass to cover one of the frying pans. In the heat of the sun, put one egg directly on the sidewalk, one in the pan without a cover, and one in the pan with the glass cover. Which one do you think will fry the quickest? You can also compare frying times on a concrete sidewalk and on black asphalt.
SOLAR COOK BOOKS
COOKING WITH THE SUN: HOW TO BUILD AND USE SOLAR COOKERS, by Beth and Dan Halacy. (A brief history of solar cooking, along with directions on how to build a solar oven and hot plate, plus over 90 recipes-including pizza, chicken, and pecan pie-and resources.)
SOLAR COOKING: A PRIMER/COOKBOOK, by Harriet Kofalk. (Simple instructions and diagrams for making a solar cooker, as well as recipes for everything from soup to baked goods that can be cooked by the sun.)
SOLAR STOVETOP COOKER: PATTERN, INSTRUCTIONS, RECIPES, by Jack Howell. (Contains patterns to trace onto cardboard and assemble, with step-by-step directions.)
SOLAR COOKING WEBSITES
(The Solar Cooking Archive is an excellent site with lots of information, articles, photographs, illustrated solar oven construction plans, teaching guides, solar cooking news from around the world, a slideshow, audio presentations, links, and additional resources.)
(A nice site with photos, recipes, and links.)
(A solar cooking lesson plan for teachers, with activity ideas and questions to ask students.)
(Sun Oven website and recipes with photos: Girl Scout Camp Supper, Banana Bread, Baked Pears, Basmati Rice, and many more.)
(Instructions and illustrated diagrams for making a pizza box solar oven.)
(Solar cooking page from the author of The Morning Hill Solar Cookery Book, a whole-foods vegetarian cookbook.)