An Oven That Saves Lives

I love low-tech solutions. An oven made out of cardboard boxes will likely garner less attention than will a refrigerator that alerts its owner via Apple Watch of eggs on the verge of spoiling. At least, it would attract more attention here in Silicon Valley—and probably gobs of venture capital to boot. (Wouldn’t it be easier to simply buy only as many eggs as you can eat?)

homemade box cooker
Homemade box cooker (left)

According to the nonprofit, nongovernmental agency Solar Cookers International (SCI):

For those who forage for fuel, prepare meals and pasteurize their drinking water over open fires, cooking is a dangerous and time-consuming job.

Burning wood, animal waste, and charcoal undermines health, quality of life, educational systems, economies, and the environment.

Nearly 3 billion people cook their food over open fires, cutting down trees faster than they can grow. When trees are cut down, the soil erodes and crop production can drop.”

Solar cookers mitigate all of these problems. When a family cooks with a solar cooker, they free up time for productive activities such as school and work, they limit their exposure to dangerous, smoky open fires, they preserve natural resources and they can pasteurize water easily.

  • 149°F (65°C) kills Hepatitis A
  • 140°F (60°C) kills E.coli, Cholera and Typhoid bacteria and the Polio virus
  • 131°F (55°C) kills worms and Cryptosporidium 

Located here in Northern California, SCI distributes ovens to people in developing countries. They rely on donors to fund their work. You can donate here

Here in the US, we can also reap the benefits of cooking with these ovens. Solar cookers:

  • Reduce fossil fuel dependence
  • Have a benign environmental impact
  • Save money (no gas bill)
  • Save time—as with a slow cooker, just pop your food in the oven and leave it unattended

If you would like to build a solar cooker of your own, SCI offers a free guide here. It includes building instructions, activities for kids, tips and recipes. (You can also buy an oven here.)

Recipes include:

  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Applesauce
  • Fish
  • Stewed tomatoes
  • Baked potatoes, squash and yams
  • Solar s’mores
  • Custard
  • Chili
  • “Refried” beans
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Roasted nuts
  • And more!

Apparently you can also can food in a solar cooker! If you have ever canned, you’ve likely done it during the height of summer when everything ripens (berries and tomatoes, for example), heating your kitchen up to hellish temperatures with the hot-water baths necessary to preserve your food. You can heat your jars outside in the solar cooker instead and keep your house cool.

Although I haven’t built my own solar oven yet, I do have access to a solar food dryer. Below are a few pics of food I have prepared in it. You can read more about my adventures in solar food dehydrating here and here. This spring I hope to get organized and build an oven. I’ll blog about that if (when…) I do.

apple thief
Apple rings drying in a solar food dryer
dried apples
They tasted like candy!
Tomatoes drying in the solar food dryer
Tomatoes (front) and bell peppers (back) drying in the solar food dryer
Solar baked kale chips

4 Replies to “An Oven That Saves Lives”

  1. I was intrigued by your claim that one can can in these things, but a quick google search showed me it is not recommended for a list of reasons, including by a manufacturer of these ovens. Where did you get that information?

    1. The booklet I mentioned from SCI lists other uses and mentions canning. I haven’t tried canning in one myself.

      1. From what I’ve read, it’s pretty risky and not recommended. I always look to more than one source for information (out of habit from my side career as a free lance writer – I often have to cite sources and need more than one to satisfy editors). The first link that google pulled up was this one and says that while solar cookers can be used for canning, but it can be challenging.

      2. I’m the senior editor at a book publisher. That’s why I use words like “apparently.”

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