For quite awhile now, I have known about solar ovens, but have never really thought about them much. I had the opportunity to see several models at the Self Reliance Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah. There are numerous videos on the internet about their use, but they always seemed more of a novelty item. However, their usefulness became apparent as I used the oven. It turned out to be very useful to have on hand, especially during the summer months when you could cook and not heat up the house with the regular oven. As a bonus, it uses no electricity, so there was energy savings, also. It can help you extend any stored fuel supplies (wood, charcoal, LP, etc.) and allow you to prepare a delicious meal using only the energy of the sun.
The Sun Oven oven came with a set of cookware which included two 3-quart black enamel pots, two bread loaf pans and two brownie pans. Once the reflectors are opened out, there is a glass door that covers the cooking compartment. An oven thermometer is strategically placed under the glass to monitor the temperature inside. I set the oven on a table outside and adjusted it so it faced directly at the sun.
[UPDATE: The newer model of the Sun Oven also comes with a kit for dehydrating food. There is also a kit to convert an older oven with the features of the newer All-American model. The one pictured is the older oven before the new parts were added. See the Sun Oven web site for information about the Retrofit Kit.]
While the oven heated up, I decided what to make in the oven. I came up with a simple soup recipe using ingredients solely from food we had stored. The ingredients were:
- 1 lb frozen mixed vegetables (dehydrated)
- 1 cup dehydrated sliced potatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato powder
- 3 tbsp dried onion
- 1 tbsp granulated garlic
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 1/2 tsp Shirley-J beef boullion powder
- 1/2 cup freeze dried diced beef
- 3 pints of water
It should be noted that the vegetables were actually some we dehydrated several months ago, I added an extra pint of water. You can dehydrate frozen vegetables and store them without refrigeration. The instructions on doing this is on the Dehydrate2Store web site. We buy extra frozen vegetables when they are on sale and dehydrate them so we don’t have to keep them in the freezer. If you are using actual frozen vegetables, you will want to cut the water down to 2 pints or so. Also, if you have any leftover vegetables from a previous dinner, you could use those instead. This is soup, so just about anything goes.
The end result is the 3 quart kettle was filled to about 1 3/4 quarts.
After 30 minutes, the oven was up to about 340 degrees. Not bad for a fall afternoon. I combined all the collected ingredients and put them in oven to cook. Now here is where it gets tricky. Whenever you open the door of a solar oven, you get an immediate temperature drop. So checking the soup frequently was not an option. Every time you open the door, you have to add 10 minutes to the cooking time. So I decided to check it after an hour.
After one hour, the temperature in the oven had dropped to 320 degrees. It is important to readjust the position of the oven ever 20 to 30 minutes to keep it pointed at the sun, and this was done. The temperature drop was probably due to having the cooler pot of food added to the inside. I quickly opened the door and checked the temperature of the food. It was 170 degrees. The vegetables had completely rehydreated, but the potatoes needed more cooking. They were still a little underdone. I decided it needed another 30 minutes to an hour to accomplish this.
According to the information provided with oven, food does not burn as readily in a solar oven. So another hour was appropriate. In the meantime, I prepared one of the brownie pans and loaded it with some refrigerator biscuits. The instructions on the package said 14 to 17 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Knowing my earlier experience with the soup I knew the time would need to be adjusted because I would be opening the oven again.
When I removed the soup, I put the contents into one of our thermal cookers because it would keep it hot while the biscuits were baking. The biscuits actually took about 55 minutes until they were done. Part of this was because the sun was getting lower in the afternoon sky and it was more difficult to keep the oven over 300 degrees. If this was being done during the summer with longer days and more direct sun, then it would take far less effort to keep the oven hot.
Since this was my first experience with the solar oven, it went pretty well. With a little bit more planning the times could probably be trimmed down, making the whole process a snap.
In conclusion, I really like the oven, but I know I have to learn more get better use out of it. If you were to get one, please learn how to use it. Read the enclosed instructions thoroughly and take the time, like I did, and get information from others who have the ovens. There are numerous videos and recipes on the internet to help. My next big project, when sun is bright again is a pork roast with vegetables. I will let you know how it turns out.
Oh, by the way, the soup and biscuits were great!