Solar Cooking, the Cookprint, and You

Solar cooker demo at the Flower and Patio Show

Solar cooker demo, Flower and Patio Show

Yesterday I had the chance to bring my well-loved handmade solar cooker to the Urban Homestead exhibit at the Indiana Flower and Patio Show.* I was a little worried that my cooker, made of cardboard, duct tape and aluminum foil, would feel self-conscious in the company of all those gleaming new grills and such. But: We rocked it.

No one seemed to care that the glass has a nice “patina,” as a friend christened the smudges I could not seem to remove with vinegar water. They were too busy peering into it and asking questions about how it works and how it’s made.

This will be my fifth summer of solar cooking. It was a thrill to spend part of a snowy day sharing my cooker with gardener types, a few of whom seemed ready to go right home and make one.

My solar cooker at work

My solar cooker at work

Not only is solar cooking crazy fun, it means we drastically reduce our natural gas use from May to September. And the fact that we can make something so useful from (nearly) all salvaged materials and make it last five years and counting? Well, it kind of feels like getting away with something sneaky.

I’m even prouder of my solar cooker since hearing a radio interview with the author of Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen, which concerns ways to “shrink your cookprint.”

The local food movement has raised awareness of our “food miles.” But we don’t always consider the impact of another aspect of eating: what we do with the food after we get it home. Anyone who gardens or belongs to a CSA knows that procuring food sustainably is only the first step. Once you have all that produce staring at you, you’ve got to process it. Except for salads, cold soups and the like (raw foodists, holla!), this task generally involves using some form of energy–turning on the burner, heating up the oven, plugging in the crockpot.

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if she advocates solar cooking as the ultimate in cookprint reduction. In the interview the author shares tips like this one for pasta-making:

Tip: Bring the water to a boil, then turn the burner off once the pasta is in the covered pot.

gas burnerI imagine pressure cookers are high on her list as well. (Don’t tell my solar cooker, but I’d be lost without my pressure cooker, at least from October through April.)

What about you–have you looked at ways to reduce your “cookprint?” Do you use a solar cooker–or would you like to? Share in the comment section below! (If you’d like more info on solar cooking, contact me for recipes and tips. Find DIY instructions here. You can buy one here–but really, don’t. So easy to make!)

*Still time to check this out if you are in Indy–through March 17. I’m told sheep will be grazing the urban homestead grass at some point in the next few days. Get your coupon here.