The sun is finally shining around here and I can think about dragging out my solar oven. The oven was one of my impulse buys and, as usual for impulses, I regret it now. I got the stove from the Lehman’s catalog and spent $300.00 on it. It’s a beauty but it’s not a $300.00 dollar beauty. I got the hybrid model that switches from solar to electricity should the sun go in before you are done cooking.

Here are my problems with the stove. First, the thing is a monster. I can lift it but it’s cumbersome and I needed to find a place to store it close to where I was likely to use it. Because of the orientation of my house, the best solar exposure is out by the garden shed so that’s where I store it. I usually have to climb over the lawn mower, bee keeping equipment and all of the garden tools to get at it. You can see where this is going. If it’s hard to access, it becomes easier to make an excuse not to use it.

The next problem is that it was manufactured in India (I think it’s India). The directions are good for a laugh but I don’t need any more laughs. I have politics for that. I need to know how to cook real food. I finally gave up on their recipe book and just adapted my own.

The final problem is that, when the sun is high, the air temperature is quite warm and there is no wind , the stove works really well, turning out stews, soups, baked potatoes and meatloaves in a little less than twice the time it would take inside. Not bad when you consider I am using only a renewable, non-polluting energy source. The problem is that in those conditions, we don’t want baked potatoes and meatloaves. We want salads, cheese and fruit. We want the comfort foods in January and the stove just can’t perform in Massachusetts in January. We tried a couple of things to adapt it like adding a wind break (helped a bit), adding bottom insulation(not much help) and setting the stove up in the greenhouse(didn’t help at all)

There isn’t much headroom  inside so  I am restricted in the kinds of pans that will  fit. The quart jars I make yogurt in are too tall to fit and the temperature also flucuates a lot so proofing bread is not possible. The result is that I just don’t use this oven as much as I had hoped I would.

My daughter did a science fair project on solar ovens. We made a bunch of them together and compared results. What we found was that our best home made oven, costing us nothing but time and made from household junk, worked nearly as well as the expensive model. It was lighter and easier to carry and it wasn’t shipped from India.

I think this is true a lot of the time. We are so quick to spend money thinking we will save money that we miss the obvious solutions to everyday problems. We also hate to acknowlege just how stuck in our ways we are. Most of the time, gadgets will get used a few times and then lost in the back of the drawer while we return to the old faithful tool we have always used. I have a pasta maker but I never use it. I make pasta by hand because that was how I learned. The pasta maker is junk to me.

If you are thinking about buying a solar oven, google it first. You will find dozens of plans that are easy, cheap and effective. One of our favorites was made from an old inner tube and a sheet of Plexiglas set on a sheet of metal. I didn’t have a piece of metal that large hanging around so I used two cookie sheets set side by side. It worked pretty well and it didn’t cost a dime.