Thursday, May 03, 2018

Analogue cooking: with apologies to vegetarians

During the one and only sabbatical I hung around the university long enough to qualify for I saw an unfinished prototype of a solar oven. It had been part of a suite of appropriate technology ideas a Belgian engineer introduced in the area of the Nicaraguan countryside where I was living and studying everyday life. Jan Haemhouts had fled Haiti, where he had been working with poor rural communites, barely escaping with his life and what he carried in his head. He introduced the prototype of what has become the renowned Nicaraguan Rope Pump, with a view to making it easier for women and girls -- the principal drawers of water in the countryside at the time -- to meet the family's water needs day by day.

The rope pump took off on a major scale.

Jan tried to push the solar oven as a low cost technology to alleviate the health risks for women of cooking by fire in smoky kitchens as well as on the obvious ecological grounds. In the area where I was living the landscape was largely denuded of trees, which went for firewood and for making carbon. The solar oven was as unsuccessful as the rope pump was successful. During the 18 months I spent in that area I tried several times to encourage the men working in broom and mop and rope pump production to work with me and complete te oven, and give it a road test. The response was always the same: there's no point, no one will use it.

I vowed to myself that one day I would build and use a solar oven, but the other things in life -- especially writing -- always seemed to get in the way.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I had finished off most of the work I've been doing to create a small garden and some serious living and hobbying space on the roof. Since the roof was the most obvious place to get maximum sun, getting the most of the work completed meant there was every incentive to finally see if solar cooking on the roof might be a viable proposition.

I found the version I wanted to start with and set about finding the materials -- including getting sheets of 2cm thick polystyrene from a nearby stationery shop.

This morning I got the oven finished, as near as I could manage to the specs of the plan I had used. It was a most enjoyable building task, and the local supermarket had the kind of black enamel pot recommended for cooking.


I put a little olive oil on the bottom of the pan and loaded in some chicken pieces, which I thought would be an indicative place to start.


Then it was time to load up the cooker.






With the glass set in place the thing was good to go.

I gave it 5 hours, hopeful that it might work out well, but quite prepared for a less than optimal result. As luck would have it, the oven worked a treat.



The juice created by the slow cooking process will be used tomorrow as stock for a simple chilied vegetable soup.


The next thing will be to look out plans for a larger model for future use out on the coffee land. I am very happy with the initial result, and am hoping for another good sunny day tomorrow and for equal success with the soup.

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