The "Hot Pot" Solar Cooker
By John D. McCann
This is a review of a new type solar cooker I purchased, called the "Hot Pot." It is different than box solar cookers, and I was curious if it would cook effectively, particularly in an emergency situation. I figured, if it worked well, I would be able to cook as long as there was sun, and save using other types of non-renewable fuels.
I first heard about this cooker from good friends, Steve and Susan Gregersen. They live off the grid and rely on various means in which to cook. I respect many of their choices, as they live this lifestyle for real. I felt that if they were impressed with the "Hot Pot" solar cooker, then I might be as well. I checked the web and found the best deal for one at the Mother Earth News Store, and ordered one. Not an inexpensive device, we paid $119.99 plus $6.95 shipping. We found it for only $99.95 at another site, but the shipping was $60.00.
We waited for, what seemed like, ever. I remember when it finally arrived, my wife Denise and I couldn't wait to open it. The whole unit comes in a sturdy box with the reflector folded flat in the top of the box. The reflector is really unique and is made from a light metal material with a very shiny reflective material on the inside. It folds so the reflective material is protected when closed. The box has a "box in a box" which holds the Pyrex glass bowl and lid with a black enameled insert.
Unfortunately, we had to wait fourteen days before we had a day scheduled for full sun. Most people know I am a patient man, but when the sun finally came out, Denise and I were grabbing and running for the yard. It should be noted that while we were waiting for a sunny day, I decided to purchase a galvanized pan to set the reflector on. My reasoning was that in between snow and melting, the ground was still very cold, and I was concerned if we set the reflector directly on the ground we might have heat loss to the ground through conduction. On a hot summer day this probably is not be an issue, but it was still winter here. When summer comes, we will probably place the whole unit on a table or other raised platform. I'm actually already thinking about a pole type arrangement with a swivel top, so the reflector can be turned in order to keep it facing the sun.
Our first cooking with the "Hot Pot" was simply soup. Even though the temperature on this first try was in the low forty's, we had hot soup for lunch in about two hours. The food you are going to cook is placed directly into the enameled black insert. The insert is then placed inside the 3 quart Pyrex glass bowl, and then the lid is placed on the insert. The bowl is place on the bottom center of the reflector, which has been positioned so that the front opening faces directly at the sun. According to the directions provided with this unit, for maximum efficiency, an adjustment should be made each hour or so to maintain a proper orientation to the sun while it moves across the sky.
Our next experiment was with freeze dried food. I knew we could now cook regular food in the "Hot Pot", but I wondered about freeze dried. I opened two packages of AlpineAire Foods "Shrimp Fried Rice". The contents of the packages were placed in the enameled insert and the appropriate amount of water was added, as indicated on the package. Now as most of you know, you normally boil water, then place it in the meal package, close it up and wait about seven minutes. Being a solar cooker does not actually boil water, we tried it this way.
The result of our experiment was edible. It wasn't as good as normal, but, because it was a little dry, we believe we might need more water than directed. Being it takes a couple of hours to rehydrate, the contents seem to suck up the water. Next time we do this, more water will be added after the first hour. We'll see how it turns out.
The next experiment was trying to bake a cake. We were really interested in the results of this attempt. Denise made an apple cake from scratch (the recipe can be found below) and we placed it in a round baking pan that we normally use to bake in our Dutch oven. The pan was placed inside the black enameled insert and this was placed inside the Pyrex glass bowl. The temperature outside was 47 degrees F, so we figured it would take a while. The cake was done in 3.5 hours.
We have since experiment with various foods and are very impressed with this solar cooker. The booklet that is provided with it gives lots of cooking tips as well as various factors that affect the speed of the cooking process. It also provides various times required for different types of food, such as eggs, rice, fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, potatoes, beans, etc.
We liked this cooker so much we naturally ordered a second one. We now have "dual" solar cookers and can cook dinner in one while a cake is baking in the other. I just love to have options.
In regard to getting optimum use of the sun, I got a great tip from my friend Susan Gregersen. She indicates, " The best way to tell if a solar oven or cooker will build up enough heat is to stand out in the sun and look at your shadow. If your shadow is shorter than you are, you should get good solar heat for cooking. If your shadow is longer, the food will take longer to cook because the sun's angle is lower in the sky and won't produce as much heat, even if you try to tilt the cooker toward the sun. On a 'short-shadow' day with good solar cooking conditions there are things that will take longer to cook. Rice and beans are good examples. Even soaked overnight they take all day to fully cook. Potatoes, meat, and hard vegetables (carrots, raw peas) are what I'd call "medium-time" foods. Pasta and soft vegetables, as well as things like minute rice, cook fastest".
The bottom line is both my wife and I like this cooker. It provides us a means to cook free of non-renewable resources, as long there is sun. It is always nice to have options, and this certainly provides us with an optional cooking method. This unit, although ideal for emergencies or an alternative method to cook at the homestead, probably is too heavy and bulky for camping. Of course for car or truck camping, or use at an established camp or cabin, it will provide you with a option.
Apple Cake Recipe:
1 - stick butter
1/2 cup - sugar
2-3 - eggs (2 XL or 3 Med.)
1 - lemon
1-1/4 - cup flour
2 Tsp's - baking powder
1-4 Tbsp's - milk
2 - apples
Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Stir in lemon zest and juice. Add flour, baking powder, and milk and mix well. Spread in 8″ baking pan. Peel and core apples and cut thin slices. Lay the apple slices on top of the dough and bake.
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