Cruiser Anne Patterson makes solar ovens … And shares a recipe

Anne Patterson and her solar oven, in her ‘other galley’ (the SEA LADY foredeck)

Three years ago on the Women and Cruising blog, Anne Patterson of sv Sea Lady wrote about cooking aboard with a solar oven.

Her experience with the solar oven was so favorable, that when the company producing her oven went out of business, Anne decided to step in to keep the solar oven in production.

As quite a few cruisers have begun cooking with these ovens, we recently asked Anne to answer some questions about cooking with a solar oven, about her decision to produce the oven, and of course … for some recipes.

Here is the first of a series on solar cooking aboard.

How did you become interested in solar cooking?

I was introduced to solar cooking by a fellow cruiser in Puerto Rico. John baked the most mouthwatering, wholesome, healthy wholegrain bread complete with dried fruit, nuts, and pumpkin seeds. Moist, yet perfectly dense. And without even turning on the oven.

As a frustrated cruising baker (hot galley, temperamental oven, extravagant use of propane), I was hooked at the first bite.

How long have you been using your solar oven aboard?

Anne’s carrot cake, baked in her solar oven.

I have been using my solar oven aboard Sea Lady for seven years now, and I have a solar oven at our summer cottage in Connecticut.

On average I solar cook 3-4 days a week.

Sometimes it’s yummy and exotic, like my 2-layer carrot cake (I’m guaranteed an invitation to every birthday party in the anchorage), other times it’s pantry basics like roasted garlic, organic long grain brown rice (which I can never manage to cook successfully on the stovetop), or steel cut oats for breakfast.

How does a solar oven work?

There are several types of solar cookers including parabolic, vacuum tube and box.

My solar oven (Solavore Sport) is a retained-heat box-type solar cooker, the only practical design for on-board use. The box cooker is also the most versatile of solar cooker designs, meaning you can bake, simmer, roast, dehydrate and even pasteurize water. The Sport’s 1” surround insulation means you can cook even in passing clouds, and food stays warm through sunset.

How does a solar oven work?

How did you learn to cook with your solar oven at the beginning?

People are often a bit intimidated when they first start solar cooking, poring over recipes wondering how to adopt. In just a few tries, however, they often comment “it’s just an oven!” (i.e. no recipe modification required.)

Personally, when I was getting started I thought of it as a crock pot and experimented with the simple basics: jerk chicken, rice & beans, etc.

Probably the key things to remember are:

  • Reduce the amount of water. Since the pots are lidded and the oven lid is closed tightly and you’re cooking at low temperatures, there is no steam escaping. Don’t add water at all to vegetables, or to meats (unless adding wine for flavor!), and cut back on water (try 25% less) for rice and grains.
  • Get an early start. In most areas the sky is clearest in the mornings. This requires behavior modification – tough for some of us! – to start dinner after breakfast, but the rewards are well worth it, and before long it’s routine.
Why did you take over production of the solar oven and launch a new business?

The Sport was invented by engineers at 3M Corporation and distributed out of Minneapolis, Minnesota by the non-profit “Solar Oven Society.” Over 20,000 Sport solar ovens were sold from 2000-2012, at which point the founders felt a need to re-structure and halted production.

Imagine my dismay to hear from my aspiring solar cooking friends that they could not purchase the oven!

Are you still cruising?

What Anne does while dinner cooks in the sun.

Absolutely! That was non-negotiable.

Our cruising is, like many in the Caribbean, 6-months on, 6-months off and never far from an airport or fast internet, but we are definitely on the hook.

One of your favorite solar cooking recipe?
Featuring the ubiquitous “calabaza” or green-skinned pumpkin found all over the Caribbean, this Sopa de Calabaza is an elegant starter served on its own or a main course served with a hearty whole grain bread and a green salad.

Sopa de Calabasa
Pumpkin Soup
Serves 8-10

Sopa de Calabasa
Pumpkin Soup
Serves 8-10

This soup is evocative of the Caribbean – colorful pumpkin, spicy ginger, and an unexpected twist: coconut milk

[Note: Calabasa is known as pumpkin in the Caribbean but is really more of a squash. Deep yellow-orange flesh with a speckled dark green skin. Any pumpkin or squash can be used. May be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated – even better!]

Directions:

  • Peel 2 ½ lb. pumpkin. Scrape out the seeds, cut in chunks. Place in Sport roasting pot. Do not add water.
  • In the second roasting pot, place 2 chopped carrots, 1 stalk celery chopped, 1 lg. chopped onion, 1 chopped green pepper, 1-2 T. grated fresh ginger, and a good pinch of crushed red pepper. (For the green pepper use the mild “Pimiento de Cocina”, long slender light green, if available).
  • Place both pots in the solar oven and cook for 1 ½ to 3 hours or until tender.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to blend.
  • In small batches, blend pumpkin along with liquid generated in the cooking, carrot/onion mixture, and 1 c. chopped tomatoes, canned or fresh. Blend until smooth. Combine all in a large pot. If you prefer your soup thinner you can add vegetable broth at this point, up to 1 c. (but keep in mind you will be adding coconut milk before serving, and the soup should be relatively thick and hearty.)
  • Add ½ t. thyme (more if fresh), salt and pepper to taste.
  • Before serving, stir in 1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk. Heat to serve.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley or fresh thyme.
  • Great served with cheese sticks, bread sticks or seasoned toast.

Vegan/Vegetarian if made according to the above instructions.
Carnivores may wish to stir in crumbled bacon after the blending stage.


 


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