Last January, I went to a conference in Washington, DC. One of the sessions I attended was on building and using a solar cooker. We even built one, but since it was the middle of winter back in New York, I never got around to using it to cook anything.
When I got to Samoa, I immediately thought of making a solar cooker to use at my house. When we bought our refrigerator, I saved the big box for making it. One rainy day, I got down on the floor and started measuring. Eventually, it was finished. Unfortunately, the next day we got the cyclone warnings and it rained practically every day after that. The problem with a solar cooker is that it only works when it is sunny – especially since it is only made of cardboard and aluminum foil.
Finally, there was a beautiful Sunday. I decided to start out easy with some simple rice. I cut up some onions and threw them into the pot with rice and water. I put the top on my pot, stuck it in an oven bag and it was ready to go. Outside on the lawn, I arranged the cooker so it was facing the sun, put the pot in the center, and walked away. Two hours later, the rice was finished and we had perfectly cooked rice for dinner (and Dave is PICKY about his rice).
It was so cool I had to take it to school. I told my teachers all about it, and we set it up to make some rice for lunch in the yard. I think most of the teachers were skeptical, as were the students. The skeptical attitude remained until I invited my seventh grade students to stick a finger in the water. As they leaped back, stunned by the burning water, they stuck their fingers in their mouth and screamed, “Oka se vevela, sole!” (Oh man, is it hot!) At lunchtime, the year 7/8 teacher and I walked over to see if it was ready. He said it didn’t look especially cooked or hot, so I invited him to try to pick up the pot. He promptly reached down and almost burned his fingers off on the pot. Then he told a poor year 8 boy to pick up the boiling pot and bring it to the teachers’ room.
What did my teachers think? I think they appreciated it and were fairly impressed – but the most frequent comment was “Sa e le fa’amasima?” You didn’t salt it? Ah well. I think Samoans are usually fairly understated in their praise.
My plan is to start using the cooker much more frequently – especially for beans, rice, and other things that take a long time. If it’s nice tomorrow, I will try out bread. We only have an electric oven here and electricity is quite expensive. Since we actually leave our refrigerator plugged in ALL the time, we use quite a lot of electricity. Limiting use of the stove and the slow cooker to short cooking times will drastically reduce our bill. Of course, that means we have to have sunny days with no rain for at least three hours at a time. We’ll see.
If anyone wants to learn more about solar cookers, there’s a great wiki on them with lots of different designs and types – even recipes. Google it!