The Sunny Side of Cooking - Introduction
What if there was a method of cooking that was low cost, powered by sunlight, non-polluting, and easy to do even in college dorms, on apartment balconies and at off-the-grid locations? There is: solar cooking.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the need for sustainable cooking solutions is great: fossil fuel-caused global warming and climate change; rising energy costs due to the end of cheap oil and political instability in petroleum exporting regions; fossil fuel pollution such as acid rain and mercury contamination from burning coal; and deforestation and resulting soil erosion and desertification (globally, most firewood is cut down for cooking).
I first learned about the revolutionary idea of permaculture two decades ago. Permaculture, which means both “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture,” is a holistic science of design based on the principles of ecology. One of permaculture's core design principles is that just like a tree or other natural object, each element in a holistic design system should perform many functions. Solar cooking embodies this principle by solving multiple problems.
I have eaten a vegan diet (no animal products) for 20 years, and have been vegetarian even longer. I have been a solar cook for 12 years. I teach vegetarian and solar cooking workshops in northern Arizona. I have found the few existing solar cookbooks to be limited in the variety of cooking techniques they explore. It is possible to do everything from simmering to braising, steaming, sautéing, baking, roasting, toasting, grilling and more in a solar cooker.
I am grateful to have learned much about solar cooking directly from solar cooker inventor and solar cooking pioneer Barbara Prosser Kerr, who lives less than a two-hour drive from me in Taylor, Arizona. Kerr has loaned me several of her solar cookers for use in my solar cooking workshops. Kerr’s collaborator, solar engineer James Scott, has provided excellent technical information on the design and functioning of solar cookers.
The Sunny Side of Cooking is designed to be simple, straightforward and, above all, practical. Part I describes the science of solar cooking and helps you decide which type of solar cooker will best meet your needs. Part II provides specific cooking instructions for grains, beans, pasta, vegetables, fruit, soups, casseroles, breads, pies, cakes, cookies, tofu, tempeh, seitan and more. It also includes information on USDA-approved solar canning techniques, water pasteurization, and even using your solar cooker to cool food and make ice (at night!).
While solar cooking is clearly the most ecological way to cook in sunny climates because it requires no fuel, other fuel-efficient methods like fireless cooking, pressure cooking, earth ovens, and wood stoves are important adjuncts to solar cooking. Together, these methods create a year-round sustainable cooking system that works in all climates. Part III discusses these complementary cooking methods.
The Appendix in Part IV lists numerous Web sites, books, organizations and other resource materials that can help you transition to a sustainable way of cooking.