Frostbite Fahrenheit – Solar Cooking in Winter
Often, new solar chefs put away their ovens as soon as temperatures dive and snow flies. However, with the well designed and heavily insulated commercial solar cookers available today, this is not necessary. By keeping a few simple concepts in mind, and with some experimentation, solar cooking in winter and the off season delivers the same delicious results as in the other months of the year. Why else would anyone ever suggest its use for disaster preparedness? The effects of the wind, sun power quality, setting, time and good planning must be considered for off season solar cooking. Most of the following advice is for box oven or panel cooker use ( although many principles still apply to parabolic style cookers) in the northern hemisphere.
Wind: Wind speed and duration play a significant role in winter solar cooking. The cooling effect of the wind lowers overall temperature and lengthens cooking time. So, whether the oven is situated by a rock outcropping, if out for a hike, behind a row of the house’s arbor vitae, or around the corner of the neighbor’s barn, finding a way to block wind helps ensure successful sun cooking during the off season.
Sunshine quality: This is the ever-present necessity of solar meal preparation, no matter what time of year. All solar chefs quickly learn of its overall importance. The thermometer may read 22 degrees Fahrenheit, but, as long as strong sunshine prevails during the prime solar cooking hours of the day (9am – 3pm), a tasty meal should be the outcome.
Setting: Observation is key here. Look for the influences of shadows from various sources; trees, buildings, etc. Look for these sun killers prior to planning the next solar cookout. In fall and winter, it is amazing how quickly shadows from corners of houses, landscaping elements, trees, etc, can encroach on the selected setting for the solar oven. Experiment with other settings such as parks, fields, family and friends houses, to see if those settings are easier for oven placement and minimize the effects of shade. Also, in northern areas, the sun’s angle comes into play with solar cooking. Some commercial ovens have been designed to counter this effect by being able to use them at an angle to capture the sun power. Other models make use of large reflectors to multiply the sun power’s effect.
Time: Realistically, winter and off season solar cooking takes more cooking time. Even if the other elements are kept in mind; that is, the setting, wind effect and sunshine quality, more time is required for making a solar meal. It is more likely that recipes for baked dishes, soups and stews will be used more often for off season meals, as opposed to preparing heavy meat meals like roasts. However, whatever is made in the solar oven can be just as tasty in November as it is in June.
Planning: Finally, by giving due consideration to the described effects of winter solar cooking, a careful plan is hatched to capitalize on the weather, setting and time constraints. Watch the weather forecast, gather the ingredients, have utensils, recipe and oven ready to go. Remember, preparing a winter solar meal on a windless, sunny day is likely to yield a better meal than otherwise. So, planning becomes essential for the successful solar cookout.
Do not put away that solar cooker when colder temperatures arrive, unless no sunny days are forecasted for several months! Follow the aforementioned advice and many tasty solar cooked dishes will be the result.