Look what I got!
I have been reading the Taylor Made Ranch blog for a couple of years now, and have been so jealous of Tammy’s beautiful Sun Oven. I have several plans that I found (here’s a good one in Mother Earth News Magazine) to build my own, but somehow my husband and I have never found the time to build one. When the Sun Oven went on sale this past fall, I jumped at the opportunity to own one!
The oven can do so many things. Of course it can cook and bake, but it can also be used as a dehydrator and a water sterilizer! Since Ray and I are trying to live a self-reliant off-grid lifestyle, we decided it would be a great idea to have several methods of cooking food, and the Sun Oven is one of the best off-grid cooking methods we have found!
I couldn’t wait to try it out. The oven was out of the box and cooking within an hour! 😉
For my first item, I decided to bake a blackberry cobbler. Ray and I live in an area where wild blackberries are very abundant. Every year in July and August we gather the blackberries and either freeze them to use in muffins, infused water, cake filling, etc. or make blackberry pie filling. I can the pie filling in pint (for cobblers) or quart (for pies)sized jars. So, I got a pint jar of the blackberry pie filling and made the cobbler, then set it into the preheated Sun Oven.
Even though it was early November with the sun low in the sky, the cobbler cooked very well, browning nicely around the edges! It was really good and I was so impressed! In a normal oven this recipe takes about 45 minutes to cook. In the Sun Oven, it took almost an hour to cook. No matter – it wasn’t using any electricity, natural gas or propane, so I was happy to let it bake away! It was delicious! (and gone within 24 hours 😉 )
Next I wanted to try cooking some kind of meat. I had a pork loin in my freezer and I also had a bottle of Morse Farms Mandarin Jalapeno Barbeque Sauce, so I thought the two would make a wonderful pulled pork sandwich.
Without bothering to preheat the oven, I stuck the roast in and let ‘er go! No, I didn’t add any liquid. The instructions that come with the Sun Oven says that it’s almost impossible to burn anything, so I decided liquid wasn’t necessary! Within an hour the roast was sizzling and browning and smelling oh so good. I let it cook for about 3 hours, as the temperature never really got over 325 that day and actually hovered between the 275-300 degree fahrenheit range, due to the overcast skies. What’s cool about this is that the oven was working much like a slow cooker or “crock pot” and I knew the meat would be good and tender after several hours. After about three hours, I shredded the pork loin (easily done with 2 forks) and added about 1 cup of the marinade. But wait, there’s more! I decided to try stacking an apple/raisin/walnut crisp on top of the now shredded and flavored pork loin. The Sun Oven came with these stacking pans and they work wonderfully!
After just another hour, the pork was moist and delicious and the apple crisp was done. I had dinner and dessert! The stacking pans really come in handy. If I was just a bit more industrious, I could have also put in a small loaf of bread on the rack right next to the pans!
The pulled pork turned out very moist and delicious. The apple/ raisin/walnut crisp was to die for!
The best part? Nothing burns! Really! To be honest, folks, I am notorious for burning things. In fact, when my kids were growing up they used to tease me and say that the smoke alarm was their dinner bell! 😉 Even after cooking the pulled pork for an hour in sticky barbeque sauce, they were very easy to clean up afterward. I literally swished the pans with warm soapy water, rinsed them off and – et voila’ – clean!
Speaking of bread…
I had to try baking bread. French bread. On a day with lots of white puffy clouds.
Hmmmm… It was sunny first thing in the morning. Not a cloud in sight! So I made some french bread dough, let it rise, made it into loaves and let it rise again. Just when I was ready to pop them into the preheated oven, a few clouds obscured the sun. Then a few more. Lovely. Can you hear my sourchasm?
It didn’t matter! It took almost 2-1/2 hours to get these loaves baked, but by golly, they baked. And they were good! The insides achieved a great crumb with really nice texture in spite of the weather. I thought they would be concrete inside, or perhaps gooey, but no – perfect french bread minus the browning. I read that I could get the bread to brown if I put either a sugar glaze or an egg white wash on the loaves, but that’s just to make them pretty. We don’t care if our bread is pretty, we just want it to taste good!
My next experiment? Brownies! My youngest son was coming up for a day to help out with some of the heavy chores, and one of his favorite desserts is brownies! Michael graduated from college recently with a Major in Social Science and a Minor in Sustainability, so he was excited to see how the Sun Oven performed. Well…
These brownies turned out so good! I could have left them in the oven just a tad bit longer, however, because the very center was a bit on the gooey side. Since foods cooked in the Sun Oven don’t burn, I shouldn’t have been so hasty to take them out. No matter, that’s how Michael likes them anyway!
So, what have I learned so far?
- Cooking in a Sun Oven is a lot of fun, and it really does work!
- Food does not burn in the Sun Oven, so if in doubt whether the food is done, cook it a little bit longer instead of constantly opening the door to check it. Every time the door is opened, you loose a lot of heat and it will take just that much longer to cook.
- The food cooking in the oven smells so good, it will attract various wildlife along with your local neighborhood dog. Place the oven where you can see it at all times or, better yet, put it somewhere the dogs can’t get to it.
- Wear sunglasses. The reflection from the oven can be blindingly bright!
- Use hot pads. Yeah – for some reason I had it in my brain that these don’t get very hot. They do. If the temperature gauge reads 350 degrees, your food and pans will also be 350 degrees.
- Place the Sun Oven on a level surface. Since I have been cooking during the winter, the sun is very low in the sky, so the Sun Oven is tilted at it’s max! If you don’t have a level and sturdy surface, the oven just might tip over!
My next experiment is going to be making zucchini chips and hamburger jerky, because I am curious to see how the Sun Oven works as a dehydrator.
I am so glad we bit the bullet and bought this Sun Oven. We still plan to build our own solar oven with the plans mentioned above (here is another DIY solar oven), because there will be days during the summer when we will want to cook down tomatoes for canning, bake bread, dehydrate vegetables and fruits, etc., all at the same time!
The solar oven is another important tool for our off-grid homestead. On days when the sun is shining, even in the winter, we have a free energy source to cook food. If the time ever comes that our well goes dry and we need to drink our collected rainwater, the solar oven will provide a way to sterilize the water and make it safe to drink.
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