Friday, February 20, 2009

Don't call it a comeback

The Global Sun Oven is back! The GSO has been hibernating by my back door since about mid-November. I gave it a whirl on December 21st, which happened to be a partly cloudy day, also the shortest day of the year, and it barely functioned at all. At that point I decided to let it take a rest for a while.

Yesterday, with a clear blue sky, the GSO took only an hour to warm up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit (from 9:45 to 10:45 AM). I took a butternut squash from my cold storage room, stabbed it multiple times, and placed it on a baking tray, with a black cloth draped over it to increase heat-gain. Then I placed it in the pre-heated sun oven. Over the next few hours, I rearranged the GSO three times to aim it toward the sun, noting that it reached 300 degrees over the course of the baking time. The squash was really, really roasted by 1:45 PM. We used it last night to make butternut squash quesadillas.

The GSO works only marginally well during the three winter months at my latitude in Oklahoma City- from about mid-November until mid-February. It still works, but it takes much longer to warm up, and does not reach the same high temperatures that it does in spring/summer/fall. Also, since you have to jack up the back end so much to get proper sun-gain, it is a little more prone to falling over in high wind. On windy days, I would stabilize the box with bricks around the base, which helps to a certain extent. In a desperate situation, you could definitely still use it on sunny days, but you would have to plan your meals very carefully.

I've missed my Sun Oven! I love it for roasting butternut squash and baking banana/zuchinni/apricot nut bread - although I use it for much more when the solar cooking season is nigh. My banana bread seems to get a little drier and a little crusty around the edges when I bake it in the regular oven. But in the sun oven, ah! Moist perfection, with no worry as to how long I leave it in. In the regular oven, I have to cook the bread within about 4 or 5 minutes of the exact time. In the sun oven, I can leave it in for quite a ways longer - I would say at least an hour past when it finishes cooking.

So I'm glad to see the Global Sun Oven back in action. I hope I will be able to include some kind of solar cooking classes or demonstrations in our Transition Town work. It's such an amazing device, and yet so few people know how well it works. Especially, I find, if they've tried to make their own solar cooker at home. From what I've heard, the home-made solar cookers don't compare very well. Usually, they are a little flimsy, only heat up to about 250 degrees, and take a long time to cook the food. For me, it's worth the money for an appliance that works like a regular oven (at least when it's sunny). OTOH, it's also worth knowing how to make a solar cooker in case of an emergency.

I think a sun oven is worth having even if you plan to use a woodstove as your main source of heat and cooking. It will get pretty roasting hot in the summer, (or fall and spring if you live in a warm area), and it won't necessarily be so pleasant to cook with a woodstove at those times. Much better to cook with a sun oven, using no wood in the process, and keeping the house cool!

Maybe tomorrow I can cook some banana bread. Anybody out there have solar cooking in their plans for this year?


Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife said...

I'm certainly thinking about it. It's nice to see the list of meals you've prepared (that you linked to). It's also useful to know your latitude. I'm farther north than you, and the limited period of each year that I could use the oven must factor into my decision of whether to buy or not.

From your list of meals, I take it you're a vegetarian. Or is it not recommended to cook meat in the ovens? I'd love to see some specific recipes you use in the oven. Thanks for posting about the Sun Oven. You really have me thinking...

Chile said...

Yeah, mine's been hibernating as well. Due to the neighborhood trees, I get very few hours of sunlight in the winter. We've also had a lot of cloudy days lately. The other thing that occurred to me a few days ago is that I haven't had the right kinds of foods to cook in it lately.

We've had less of the root vegetables from the CSA this year and more greens. I prefer to quickly saute the greens or eat them raw, whereas the solar oven works great for roasting roots.

Don't forget that the coupon offered on my blog should still be good if someone wants to order a Sun Oven or Tulsi.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Kate - check out the insolation in your area - latitude isn't everything! I eat cheese, eggs, and fish as well as veggies. But actually you can cook chicken and meat in the Sun Oven - it's supposed to lock in the juices and make them quite juicy and tender. Fish cooks quickly in the GSO - I think I could probably even cook it in the winter. I started out using the Cooking with Sunshine cookbook, but found it's not really necessary. You can cook everything pretty much normally (in the GSO) except that you can't really saute. I think in homemade cookers you might need special recipes.

Amber said...

Oh I'm so jealous! My poor sun oven has been kept in the closet since last October. I'm still in the midst of winter here in Ontario and have a least another month, maybe two before I expect to be able to use it. But as soon as I can I'm busting that baby out!

Theresa said...

I really need to get one of these. I made a home-made version and it was sub-par, at best. I will have to press my case a bit more with my husband, and your info could help me do just that! Thanks!

And thanks for the coupon reminder Chile!

Christy said...

Matt and I will have to look into getting one of these this spring, I had no idea you could cook so much with it! Our backyard almost always gets direct sunlight since there aren't any large trees in our newly developed neighborhood.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Christy - You and Matt can come over and see the GSO working some weekend if you want. It's really easy to set up and take down. It's great here in the summer, since it gets so hot out it is nice to cook outside and keep the house cool. Otherwise I would never bake bread or cook lasagna in the summer!

Green Assassin Brigade said...

Have you had any trouble with that flimsy single leg retracting under the weight of the oven and or a little movement?

With mine its as if the tube the leg moves in is too big and the leg has too much freedom of movement.

I only used mine a bit last year but I think if I had to use it constantly I would want to make my own about double the size on a pillar with a turntable and angle settings. Maybe a small solar cell powered fan inside.

I'd really like to be able to put a full roaster or a cookie sheet in the oven, get it up off the ground and make the adjustments easier.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

GAB - No problem with the leg retracting. I agree it is nicer to have more room - I got the Tulsi for cookies/pizza.

I have visions of getting a little covered rolling cart that I could use for the GSO so I could leave it outside and move it around. That would be nice.

Chile said...

An alternative to a rolling cart for outside would be a (covered) stand with a large Lazy Susan mounted on the top. It would have to have some kind of clamp to stop it from rotating in high winds, though.

Lewru said...

I can't wait to get one myself. Your recommendations have made it seem much easier.