Sun oven becomes a hot commodity
Alternative source of energy benefits eco-savvy chefs and people in developing countries.
Saturday, June 5, 2010 - 18:10
MY DATE WITH THE SUN OVEN: I had an intimate, one-week relationship with my guy, the sun oven. Let's just say it was flamin' hot! (Photo: Sandee Staples)
It's 80 degrees and the sun is shining. It's the season of suntans and bikinis, swimming pools and the perfect barbecue dinner. The hamburgers are on the grill, the watermelon's in the fridge, the strawberry shortcakes are cooking outside, on the deck, under the sun and in the solar oven.
"I like to grill but the simplicity of the oven attracted me to it. It's the things that get you off the grid. Using alternative energy is key," said Ben Adams, head of the refugee resettlement ministry and avid user of the solar oven at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church.
Adams and his wife, Kathy, have been intrigued with the idea to cook with the sun's warmth since 2005. They wanted to bring the idea across the Atlantic to Nagaland. The country is in the eastern province of India, and it's home to a former Baker church minister.
"The church got involved and raised money to get a Villager oven," said Adams.
The Villager Sun Oven is a much bigger solar oven "designed for large-scale feeding situations."
The couple had arranged to travel to India and show the people of Nagaland how to use the oven.
The concept of the cooker
The sun oven is sometimes compared to the concept of a homemade box cooker, using aluminum and cardboard to cook food. Despite similar energy conversion techniques, the sun oven Adams uses is built efficiently to reach and retain the greatest amount of heat on a sunny day. Temperatures can reach between 350 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
"You could put a frozen pot roast in there and let it cook all day," he said.
The solar appliance is encouraged in developing countries that rely on wood and charcoal as main cooking fuel sources. It's praised for its low cost, alternative energy use and durability.
My experience using it
Adams loaned me one of his ovens for the week, and I had a great time experimenting with the food under the sun's rays.
In one week I made shortcakes for our Memorial Day barbecue, fruit an' coconut granola, pizza bread and energy blueberry lemon bread. I'm not a meat eater, so I never tried the pot roast idea. However, after doing some research, I discovered that solar oven owners cook pretty much anything. From seafood to chicken salads, casseroles to pasta dishes — solar ovens can cook it all.
When I cooked my bread, I used the same ingredients I would put into my bread maker. I kneaded it myself and stuck the dough in the oven at 11 a.m. It was finished by 3 p.m., and my family and I ate it for dinner that night.
How the rest of the world is using it
The advantage to the sun oven is that nothing burns in it. However, users do need a bright, sunny day and need to be around the home to keep the oven in the sun.
"People are too busy. The have to have convenience. I don't think in the Midwest there will be much of a change to use the solar oven, but it's important in other countries," said Adams.
Adams explained that Americans in general don't see a necessity to conserve energy like they do in third world countries.
"Central America is a big opportunity to use the oven. Use it in places like Honduras and Guatemala. There's also lots of potential in Africa," he said.
Currently Adams is fundraising at the church to donate five solar ovens to Haiti.
"Hopefully the word gets around and more people will donate. On one Sunday we raised $200 — that's enough for one solar oven. The Sunday school class might donate enough for one. We've got one down, two coming and two more to go," said Adams.
The popularity of using alternative energy resources may make a bright future for the sun oven across the globe.