Friday, April 9, 2010

Solar Oven Cooking, Trial I

Hubby bought us a Solar Oven last week. It arrived just before Easter, but it has been cloudy, or chance of rain-y since. Yesterday morning, as I was preparing a batch of beans for the crock pot, I discovered that my leftover ham bone was much bigger than I thought and I ended up with an extra cup of soaked pinto beans.

With only a 10% chance of rain forecast for today and the sky totally clear before sunrise, I decided to give the solar oven a go.

I sliced off a small portion of ham for each of 2 half quart jars and added 1/2 cup of soaked beans to each. I put used canning jar lids on and barely tightened the screw bands.

I put the solar oven in the garden and pointed it approximately south/southwest so it would catch the rays the hottest part of the day. Ideally, the oven can be roatated throughout the day to follow the main rays of the sun; not-so- ideally, I work away from home all day long, so I had to work with what I had. Start time... 7 am.

Fast forward many hours of work.. and at 5 pm I returned home to find the sun oven sitting in full shade and the temp gauge reading ~80F...ambient air temp. But it appeared that something good had happened during the day. The liquid at the bottom of the jars was a milky beany color and the jars were quite warm to the touch. I quickly moved the oven to a sunny spot in the yard and realigned it to catch the last 2 hours of sunlight of the day. Within 10 minutes, the oven was reading back up at 200F and within 15 minutes the temp was at 250F.

By dinner time at 6, I had to use potholders to lift the jars--a great sign!

I also saw that at least one of the jars had reached a full rolling boil and had even boiled over onto the tray.

Now the review, and very handy comparison with crock pot beans.

Both jars needed more liquid, and in fact, so did the crock pot... My extra large ham bone had partially propped open the lid of the crock pot and the top inch of water had boiled out, leaving hard crunchy beans in the top inch of the crock pot. I had to carefully scoop the crunchy beans off the top of the crock pot. I figured the same fate faced the beans that were left out of the water in the solar oven cooking jars, but no. Actually, the solar oven beans above the water level were tender and soft, not at all crunchy.

Here is a side by side comparison:

crock pot beans are on the left and Solar beans are on the right. Both are perfectly cooked through and tender, the crock beans have a bit more fat and flavor (they also cooked with about 2lbs of ham bone, skin and fat) whereas the solar oven beans only got about 3 oz of ham meat per jar. The darker beans on the left were kind of hard due to being cooked above the water line (apparently, I was not successful in picking them all out). There were NO crunchy beans in the solar oven jars.

In conclusion:
1) beans in the solar oven were cooked to perfect consistency
2) beans in the solar oven above the waterline fared better than beans above the waterline in the crock pot
3) flavor of crock pot beans was better, but only due to the huge ham hock
4) solar beans took NO ELECTRICITY to cook, nada.
5) crock pot beans cooked all day on high in the crock pot (wish I had a way to measure how much electricity it took...)

Next time for solar cooking:
1) bigger jars
2) more water in the jars
3) Solar oven located in a place to get full afternoon sun (not the garden, apparently)
4) not too much to add, I am SO very pleased with our first solar cooking experience. I usually don't hit it right on the first try, but I could not imagine a better first attempt at something so novel.

Now, my next effort will be... Solar baking

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