Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The joys of solar cooking at 41 south

I haven't posted a solar cooking update for a while, but we've been puddling away at it and having a few nice meals.

What's becoming obvious is that a solar cook's biggest challenge here in Wellington is the unpredictability of the weather. I don't mean from day to day, but from minute to minute.

Wellington weather is like - 53 minutes of sunshine, then 46.5 minutes of high cloud, then more sunshine, then a breeze blows up, then a huge, low rain cloud rumbles over and releases 23 drops of rain, then it's sunny for 5 minutes, then a howling gale rages for an hour, then the sun comes out again ...

As far as wind goes, I've got a bit better at dealing with that.

With the CooKit panel cooker, I anchor it down at the sides with bricks, and set up the pot in such a way that there's no risk of it sliding around inside its bag or tipping and spilling.

With the box cooker, I thought I was going to need to prop up the lid's relector panel at both sides, instead of just one, but so far I haven't needed to. I just made a better, stronger prop for the one side. (That may yet turn out to be unsatisfactory though.)

As for dealing with rain, I think what would be ideal would be to make a little shelter that we could put over the cookers at short notice whenever Welllington decides to turn on one of its brief, impromptu little showers. Must get onto that.


Heather said...

Ooo - did you have a go today? It was a gloriously sunny and calm day in Auckland, and I gather it was pretty good throughout the country. On the news on National Radio this morning they commented that it was going to be fine throughout the country for election day "even in the Chatham Islands". I hadn't realised that it was so rainy there that a fine day made the news!!!

Anyway, we had our cooker out today and made two banana and walnut cakes (one for us and one for the neighbours who took me to the doctor to get stitches when I cut myself with a stanley knife whilst making it....), then decided to try and do dinner in it, too. That wasn't such a success - the dal cooked great but the cornbread didn't get into the cooker until around 2.30pm and had to get finished off in the regular oven.

But it was fun, and the first time we'd tried to cook a main meal (as opposed to bake) in the solar cooker :-)

--Heather :-)

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Heather - no! I didn't manage to cook anything yesterday - it would have been the perfect day!!!

We had a good day today though (have just posted about it) - and I tried out your idea of a solar cooked pavlova.

Banana and walnut cakes sound great.

Do you cook the dahl and cornbread side by side, or one on top of the other?

Also - love to get some pavlova tips! Did you heat the pot up first?

Did you manage to get much crispiness on the outside?

I have more questions too, but will leave it at that for now! :)

Heather said...

Hi Johanna,

Your solar cooking party sounds great :-)

For the dahl/cornbread, we had three containers in the cooker, each propped up on a chock to allow warm air to circulate underneath. The containers were next to each other and were as follows:

1. Lentils/water/onion/ground spices
2. Oil/whole spices (we normally fry these till fragrant in a small skillet and then stir them into the lentils along with lemon juice at the end of cooking - I figured they would probably get hotter sitting in oil than sitting in water with the lentils and this worked brilliantly and they were amazingly fragrant after a couple of hours)
3. Loaf tin with cornbread

The lentil saucepan and the spice bowl were white, so I covered them with a dark-coloured pillowcase and a dark-coloured serviette respectively (the saucepan also had a good lid). The loaf tin was black and covered with black-painted tin-foil, black side up. The dal was in from about 1.30 and was almost perfect, the cornbread went in at 2.30 and needed a bit of time in the oven after.

As for the pavlova, I used quite a shallow tin and I covered it with black-painted tinfoil held away from the pav with little plastic props. I figured that the pav was so shiny-white that it would *reflect* heat away from itself, so I needed something black to absorb heat near it. (I have done this each time I've baked something pale - e.g. bran muffins I didn't cover, but cornmeal and feta ones I did).

It wasn't as crispy as a normal one, but it did have a lot of crunchy patches especially along the top edges. Otherwise it was quite marshmallowy, but cooked right through - you could slice it and it quite happily stayed with sharp edges. It also leaked that clear, sweet stuff that pavs sometimes leak when the cooking temperature isn't quite right, but that didn't bother me.

I put up how I made it on

Hope that helps! I'm very new to this all myself, but I'm happy to share what I've figured out!

--Heather :-)

Johanna Knox said...

Cool! Thanks for this Heather!

Yes - we had oozy sugar syrup comig out of the pavlova too ... it was quite nice spooned over it.:)

I had a black thing over the top but it was quite tall and far away from the top of the pavlova, I wonder if having something closer to the top like it sounds you did would make for a crispier top ...

I like the sound of how you put the whole spices in oil separate from the rest of the curry. That's a great idea.

Anonymous said...

You can build a Fun-panel solar cooker in less than an hour from a cardboard box and a few metres of aluminium foil.

Tom Sponheim
Solar Cookers International