Adventures in Solar Cooking: Part 2

In case you missed Adventures in Solar Cooking: Part 1, here’s what happened: I built a solar oven. It was a big deal for me. When I finished, it looked really good! But the biggest test was yet to come: Could I actually cook something in there? I mean, it’s just made of cardboard, right? How hot could it get?

My first test was pasta. I put some noodles in a glass jar with water, sealed the lid and stuck it inside for a while. I don’t know how long. But it was long enough to totally overcook the noodles. Yuck. Failure #1.

The second test was brownies for my book club. I figured that wouldn’t be too hard to screw up. But I didn’t factor in my sometimes crazy schedule. I stuck the pan in mid-afternoon, watched in awe as the top turned crispy and the baking began… and then remembered I had to run to town. I didn’t want to leave the brownies in there too long, so I opted for taking them out early. No go. The super gooey brownie lovers thought they were delicious; I thought they were raw. I ended up throwing out most of the pan. Failure #2.

Lesson learned: I need a couple-hour window midday when I know I’ll be at home to ensure doneness. Gotta plan ahead. (Not something I’m good at.)

These tests were really just leading up to the big baking endeavor, my son Huck’s 3rd birthday cake. Just like a birthday cake for a friend had been the spark that got me into solar cooking, I wanted to show off my new solar skills at his birthday party. The X-factor was the weather. Yes, we were getting plenty of sun, but we’d also been getting a lot of wind. The last thing I wanted was for the whole oven to go crashing across my backyard when a strong gust came along.

Solar birthday cakeBut two days before his birthday, it was clear and calm at noon and I decided to go for it. It felt pretty strange to mix up a homemade chocolate cake, then walk right past the oven and onto the back deck to stick it inside a cardboard box. I forced myself not to peak for at least an hour. At an hour and twenty minutes, I pulled off the glass lid (hot mitts definitely required) and stuck a toothpick in – clean! It looked gorgeous and it smelled scrumptious.

Huck and his little 3-year-old friends were pretty darn psyched about it, too.

I think for my next experiment, I’m going to try something that doesn’t involve baking powder – just something to heat up for a good long while. Lasagna, perhaps?

Rebecca Anderson

Rebecca Anderson is ACE’s Director of Education. She came to ACE in its inception in 2008. Rebecca develops ACE's science content, manages the online climate education resource Our Climate Our Future, oversees the ACE Teacher Network, and works with schools in the Reno-Tahoe area. Prior to ACE, she did paleoclimate research in the Arctic and Antarctica.