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Solarque Your Food!

The last time I flew to Oaxaca, Mexico I packed a collapsible solar oven that I had purchased for easy transport. I was staying for a month and thought it would be fun and interesting to cook on the sloping lawn of our rented casa. Before leaving I hopped on the Internet and discovered there was a contact person in Oaxaca whom I could phone when I got there to find out what was up with the solar community. (There are contact persons in 63 countries around the globe.) Valerie, who coincidentally had spent many years living in Santa Fe, turned out to be quite the expert on solar ovens and their uses. She volunteered to bring over a couple of large solar box cookers she had made out of cardboard and aluminum foil for our use during our stay.

The very next day, Valerie arrived carrying the light weight boxes, a couple of mason jars and curious thermometers. The thermometers were narrow glass vials, each with a tiny white lump of lard inside. She had been purifying her own drinking water for years by inserting the vial in a jar of water and then putting the jar in her "cooker". When the lard was no longer visible, since it had melted in the heat, she knew that in another ten minutes the water would reach 157 degrees F., high enough to pasteurize and make her water pure enough to drink! Drinking water under most conditions only has to be pasteurized, not sterilized. She said there is no reason to purchase water at all, or fuel for cooking.

Using the heat produced from the reflected heat of the sun we cooked; quesadillas, nachos, beans, soups, tomato sauce and chicken. We even reheated leftovers in the sun. Figuring that out cookers went to about 200 degrees F., it took about twice as long as a conventional stove, (each sort of cooker varies in the temperature it can achieve). We did not have to tend the food (except in the case of the chicken) as nothing can burn, since the heat is not coming from one point. We seldom stirred or fussed; in fact, we weren't even home most of the time! Just like cooking with a crock pot, we could leave and we did. While we were roaming around the 10,000 year old ruins of Yagul, communing with the ancient Zapotecs, dinner was on its' way back at the Casa.

The Internet information (start with www.solarcooking.org) is extensive, with directions on how to make your own solar cooker from plans that can be as simple as a cooker made from a cardboard pizza box lined with aluminum foil to a parabolic cooker, which is a concave disk that focuses the light and can reach temperatures up to 450 F. These often use a purchasable solar generated helio-tracker to stalk the sun. There are also sources for buying cookers on line. The Internet yields parameters for food safety, recipes, philosophy, impact, policies, and resolutions. Lists for solar events and demonstrations abound. One immediately perceives the meaningful surge (pardon the expression) of interest worldwide for renewable sources of energy. The sun as a fuel source is renewable, sustainable and free of charge. Elegant simplicity.

As the litany goes in the solar world, "The answer comes up every morning."

People ask me why they should bother to cook with the sun, and really the answer is - why not? Living as we do in New Mexico, perhaps in our very own passive solar homes, with photovoltaic systems powered by three hundred days of sun, our high altitude with an attendant clear atmosphere and mostly smog free skies, gives us perfect conditions for solar technologies. For instance, New Mexico boasts the only solar powered radio station in the world, located in Taos - KTAOS at 101.9 FM, which serves Northern New Mexico. To see demonstrations of cookery and other sun technologies, The New Mexico Solar Energy Association holds its' annual Solar Fiesta at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center September 22 and 23, off I-40 at 12th St. in Albuquerque.

Architect Mark Chalom of Santa Fe, who specializes in solar design for the home, offers that he and his family use their solar cooker not only for cooking food, but also for drying fruit, vegetables, and jerky, and have even dried the family's laundry. He has cooked Christmas dinner in the giant cooker known as The Villager, that is available from SunOven brand. (www.sunoven.com). It can cook up to 6 turkeys at one time! A solar cooker works with as little as 20 minutes of sunlight per hour.

Chef Michael Gintert of the soon-to-open Blue Heron restaurant at (aptly named) Sunrise Springs Inn and Resort in La Cienega, is holding a solar cooking contest this summer. The challenge will be to "solarque" a 2 ½ pound chicken in the shortest time using only the energy of the sun. Contestants will bring their own solar cookers to the grounds for the one day event. "The sun is a blessing" says Chef Gintert, who has a passion for clean energy. He is currently working on his 4 foot parabolic dish cooker, complete with glass mosaic reflectors. He also asserts that he's going to turn his 1966 Pontiac GTO into a hydrogen gas guzzler! (Hydrogen cells, and hydrogen cookery are another conversation.) For details, call him at 428-3600.

As my Pappy is fond of saying, "Intelligence is defined as the ability to adapt."

How To Get Started:

Consult the Internet at; www.solarcooking.org/solarcooking-faq.htm This is the frequently asked questions section with prompts to many other solar cooking resources. To learn how to build a cooker, or to purchase one go to www.solarcooking.org.

To purchase a solar box cooker that will go to 400 degrees F. and is still portable order from www.aaasolar.com - Triple A Solar is located in Albuquerque and can be reached at 1 800 245- 0311

Purchase cookbooks on solar cooking - Such titles as; Solar Cooking A Primer Cookbook from The Book Publishing Company P.O. Box 99 Summertown, Tennessee 38483 Tel: (800) 695-2241 For a comprehensive book about the Q and A of solar cooking read; Heaven's Flame, by Joseph Radabaugh it is excellent and is available from Home Power Magazine.com Bookstores stock books on solar cooking as well.
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