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Cooking with the Sun with a Solavore Sport-Sun Oven

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Whether you’re a homesteader, farmer, eco-minded urbanite or prepper, the Solavore Sport sun oven can cook your meals without a cent of purchased electricity or natural gas.

While sun ovens have been around for years, perhaps it comes as no surprise that there are several commercially-made units now on the market.  Generally speaking, sun ovens use the sunlight to heat up an insulated box that’s capable of cooking or baking your food with no electricity or natural gas appliance needed.  They’re ideal self-reliance tools, perfect for homesteaders no matter where you live or at what scale your operations.

We got our hands on an American-made, Solavore Sport sun oven

to test out on sunny and partially sunny days in Wisconsin, in April. It’s quick to set up, which means pointing the oven in the direction of the sun and adding whatever it is you want to bake or cook. Heat is trapped in the black cooking box area, held there by with 1-inch thick, reflective, high-density foam insulation on the sides and bottom – plus a tightly fitting double insulated lid.

With the maximum temperature of 300-degrees, using the Solavore Sport sun oven is best understood for those who regularly use a slow cooker, like we do. The Solavore Sport sun oven cooks at lower temperatures, over longer time periods. A benefit with this lower, more consistent heat and the insulating properties of the oven itself is that the likelihood of food burning -- or getting dried out -- is greatly diminished. Plus, slow cooking enhances flavors and may help preserve more nutrition.

If you like to put a meal together in the morning for a dinner in the evening, this oven fits the bill perfectly, especially with its larger, rectangular 9-1/4-inch by 17-1/2-inch cooking floor, capable of cooking with two 3.4-quart pots at the same time or a standard 9-inch by 13-inch Pyrex pan often used for casseroles. Cooking with the two pots, you can make a main course and soup or a dessert at the same time.

The TR-86 reflector, an optional add on, nearly doubles the amount of sunlight captured. On partially sunny days or for cooking in the winter, especially in northern climates, the reflector makes cooking much more effective. For northern climate cooking, most users also tip the oven on the side with the Solavore logo on it, offering a better angle for winter cooking.

 “Experiment with using the Sport in its winter angle with the Solavore Sport logo down,” advises Anne Patterson, CEO of Solavore, a women-owned social enterprise that promotes cooking with the sun around the world. “The ‘floor’ measures eight-inch by eighteen-inch in this position, so loaf pans work great, as does my seven-and-one-half-inch by eleven-and-one-half-inch metal casserole from the discount store; squash can simply sit on the floor of the oven, halved and cleaned; root vegetables, roasted garlic, onions: wrap in foil and bake away!”

Just be mindful of the wind when cooking with any sun oven, including the Solavore.  While the Solavore Sport has a lower profile than other sun ovens to help mitigate windy conditions, you might find yourself tucking it securely in a place out of the wind to avoid it toppling over, especially with reflectors attached. We have a nook in the south-facing and sunny area of our garage, just for this purpose.

Also included in most Solavore Sport sun oven packages are two enamel pots with lids, a thermometer and WAPI water pasteurization indicator for testing purified water in emergency situations. The Solavore Sport is light, weighing only nine pounds. The clear, double insulated cover is made from injection-molded nylon resin, so you won’t burn your hands like you might with a glass top sun oven. The cover clips around the edges.

Whether on patios, a spot out the back door or as a feature in your outdoor kitchen, sun ovens should be on your list of early acquisitions since they’ll pay for themselves within the first year of use if you cook as much as we do at home – thanks to our livelihood that involves operating a farmstay B&B, cottage food operation, and working (from home) for various non-profits like the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. Many sun ovens, including the Solavore Sport, are sold at Mother Earth News Fairs, a great place to see them in action; try a cookie or other treat cooked in the sun ovens for yourself.

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In Spring with spinach in abundance, we love to use this leafy green with local award-winning cheese to bake our Spinach-Cheese Bites appetizer, a recipe found in our Farmstead Chef cookbook.  These Spinach Bites work amazing in the Solavore Sport sun oven, especially with full sun and the reflector. We included our recipe below, should you wish to try them yourself. We also savored a pot pie baked in the oven, with our root cellared potatoes and frozen peas. Cooking time is about twice as long as in a conventional oven, even with plentiful sunshine.

As a side note; these Spinach-Cheese Bites freeze exceptionally well. Roll level tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls about the size of walnuts (about 40) and arrange them on a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet, close but not touching.  Freeze until hard, then pack in freezer food storage bags. To serve frozen Spinach-Cheese Bites, remove the number of Bites you’d like from freezer bags and place the frozen balls on a lightly oiled cookie sheet or in a glass pie dish. Bake the Bites in the Solavore Sport sun oven for about 30 to 40 minutes (depending on sunlight and time of year), or until they are browned and firm. In a conventional oven, bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned and firm enough to pick up.

Spinach-Cheese Bites

From Farmstead Chef cookbook, by Lisa Kivirist and John D. Ivanko

Yield: 10 as an appetizer.

Ingredients

3 c. cooked and cooled spinach or Swiss chard (or a combo of both) finely chopped & tightly packed.  Be sure to squeeze out as much water as you can.  If using frozen spinach, this is about two 10-oz. packages.
3 c. bread crumbs
1 c. hard granular cheese, grated (Parmesan)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ c. butter, softened (1 stick)
½ tsp salt

Directions

1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until well blended.  We find it’s easiest to mix using clean hands.  Make sure the butter mixes in evenly.

2. To prepare and serve immediately, roll level tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls about the size of walnuts (about 40) and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. 

3. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly browned and firm enough to pick up.

Serve immediately.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.


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