We’re in mid April, and dare I say it, summer has arrived here in Crete. This blog post is all about delving into the realms of solar cooking, making raisins, and lazy cats. Let’s begin.
Last year, the older people at the kafenion in our village informed me that April 15th is when the weather can more or less be guaranteed, and I can start to sow my summer vegetables. Sure enough, in a few days time, the weather is predicted to change, just as they told me it would. The thick gloomy clouds will lift like curtains on a theatre stage, to reveal the glorious, dazzling sun; tap dancing, all smiles and jazz hands. Who doesn’t like a good theatre show?
If you liken the sunshine to a west-end show, then we’ve got front row tickets here in Greece. We formerly lived in the UK, where we endured the cheap seats at the back, stuck behind an irritatingly tall person sat in front…Isn’t it always the way? We rarely glimpsed the sun as it pirouetted across the stage. They were the kind of seats that made you consider missing the last five minutes of the first half, in oder to skip the queues for the toilet and secure ice cream served in cardboard tubs.
So how does the arrival of the sunshine alter our lifestyle here in Greece? Quite dramatically actually, plus the animals seem delighted. You can read all about our lifestyle during the winter in one of my previous posts. In a nut shell it’s damp, involves lots of log burning and sometimes there’s no running hot water. Despite this, we love every season here. You can’t appreciate the sunshine if you haven’t had a few cold showers, that’s what we say. The change in the weather primarily means that we have solar hot water on tap, and we can use our solar cookers to cook and boil most of our food and hot drinks. It also means that instead of cats lazing next to the fire, we have cats lazing in the sunshine.
Our solar ovens, and cats, are positioned on the south side of our house to maximise the exposure to the sun. As soon as we wake up in the morning, we put the kettle on our parabolic solar cooker and prepare something to go in our solar oven for lunch or dinner. During the day we reposition both contraptions towards the sun as it moves. Every half an hour or so, we make a little adjustment to re-align both cookers back into the optimum position. However it’s not critical, and we often forget. Throughout the day, the kettle whistles to inform us that it’s time for another tea break; the cats commandeer our laps every time we sit down. Any excess hot water is stored in our two thermos flasks for later in the evening, when we want to boil the electric kettle.
Today we cooked baked aubergines with feta cheese and homemade baked beans, and boiled several kettles of water on our parabolic solar cooker. Mr Sidestepping-normal told me that he’d pay good money for that meal, but he hasn’t yet…I’m still waiting.
I fell in love with the idea of solar cooking a few years ago, and researched the best options. It’s possible to make your own solar cooker out of things you have lying around. However, we were looking for durable options, rather than make-shift arrangements.
It was a revolutionary concept for me, and ticked all the boxes. After the initial out-lay, solar cookers are free to use, reduce the reliance on electricity powered by fossil fuels, and best of all, there’s nothing to go wrong. The only downside is that no sun, means no cooking, but the day the sun doesn’t rise, I reckon solar cooking will be the last off our worries. Luckily, living in Greece means that we rarely have a bad day between April and October. Solar cookers work best on a clear sunny day, but even on partly cloudy days, we still manage to cook up a feast. The outside temperature is irrelevant, and it’s quite feasible to cook on a cold but clear day.
We have two solar cookers, and I can highly recommend both of them. We find it the perfect combination to have these two. One is instant and works at high temperatures, and one is better for slow cooking. Let me take you through the merits of each.
All American sun oven:
This oven is very well designed and simple to use. It neatly packs away and has a carry handle making it perfect for moving around – you could even take it to the beach. We use this oven for dishes that benefit from a few hours of cooking, such as stews, soups, homemade baked beans, baked aubergines with feta cheese, fava beans, chickpeas etc etc. We’re still exploring what it’s capable of and we’re looking forward to trialling cooking bread.
The great thing about this oven, is that it can also be used as a dehydrator. By leaving the glass door ajar, foods can be dehydrated. We’ve made homemade raisins*** from grapes and look forward to trying sun dried tomatoes in the summer. This oven easily reaches 200 Celcius/ 390 Fahrenheit. It helps to preheat the oven, by setting it out in position for ten minutes to warn up before use. We use this oven almost everyday, even if we’re out. It maintains a steady heat if you reposition it every half hour, however even if you’re out for the day, you can leave it unattended in a position that still keeps cooking. The oven has a little alignment marker, so you can easily line up the sun. It can also be anchored down with metal pegs if it’s a breezy day.
Side note*** I burnt the grapes into little black shrivelled bullets because we went to the beach and I forgot about them. They looked a bit like rolled-up woodlice, but we still ate them in porridge because it seemed a waste otherwise. My sister said they looked just like dark currants. I dearly hoped that currants were also known as burnt raisins, and that I had created something of merit. It turns out that they aren’t and I didn’t…they were just burnt raisins.
Sun and ice parabolic solar cooker:
This parabolic solar cooker is amazing and really well designed.. It works by concentrating the suns rays into the centre of the dish. Consequently, it creates an intense focused heat, perfect for boiling water or cooking at hot temperatures. We use this cooker to boil water in our kettle, fry eggs, cook pasta, toast pittas and lightly fry food. It’s a great all-rounder and provides instant heat just like a conventional hob. It’s a much larger item, and in addition, requires space to store it. When the winds from Africa pick up from the south, we dismantle the dish from the base and store it inside. Also, we keep it under our pergola when it’s not in use, protected from the rain. This parabolic solar cooker had an alignment marker which makes it really easy to line up the sun.
So, all in all we’re BIG fans of solar cooking. It seems to intrigue everyone, especially the people from our village that walk past. They think it’s very ingenious to use the sun’s power, and they smile and tut in amazement. My hope is that solar cooking will become more widely known and grow in popularity. Maybe in a few years time solar cooking will be mainstream, especially in hot climates. We’ve still got plenty to learn about solar cooking, but so far I’ve learnt that: a) solar cookers are up there with some of my favourite inventions b) beach days and raisin-making-days don’t go hand in hand, and c) cats are just as lazy as they’re reputed to be.