Angelina Seda is 87 years old and lives in Kenya. Eight of her nine children have died, one is bedridden and she is raising an orphan grandchild with no money and no income. But thanks to local relief efforts from Solar Cookers International, Seda says she can eat hot food now and her life has improved for the better.
Headquartered in Sacramento, SCI facilitates humanitarian and environmentally focused partnerships around the world through a database of connections. As an umbrella organization to numerous groups that try to spread solar cooking worldwide, SCI helps facilitate partnerships.
Elmhurst resident Ilsa Hess has been solar cooking on and off for 20 years. Using a variety of cookers, including the dashboard of her VW Beetle, she’s tried making everything from cornbread to muffins, steamed vegetables, and chili. She remembered watching a wacky morning show years ago where they would cook turkeys in cars. “They actually did it in an old Cadillac. That sucker cooked! It’s so hot out there … I don’t know why it’s taken so long to get this together,” she says. But on a hot July day, she put out two mason jars filled with half a russet potato each on her car’s dashboard between a reflective car sunshade and the window. She put the thermometer in the jar. Before she closed the door, the thermometer read between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Within a few minutes after shutting the door, it read 100. A few hours later, she went out to check on the progress. The heat was holding steady at Went out at 2 p.m., 175 degrees no matter how hot it got outside. “The potato was still cooking!” she said. Talk about free energy! Hess said out of all the cookers she has tried, her favorite remains the fold-up Cook-it, which you can get through Solar Cookers International. A friend of hers let her borrow a big box cooker. “I tried to cook muffins, but they released a lot of moisture. I thought it would be the god of all cooking gods. But it’s so heavy and I was blowing my back out. For what it’s doing, it’s not that awesome.” With the Cook-it, she has found that if it’s hot enough outside, by noon her food can be all done. While SCI recommends black enamel pans, Hess said the glass jars work well for her because she can actually see when something is done. Solar cooking definitely has a learning curve. Different factors like the time of day and the wind can be an issue, she said. Sometimes when cooking vegetables in a solar cooker, she has noticed the flavor change. “It will dry out and taste weird,” she said. But when cooking chili, that’s something that needs to cook for a long time. “It could sit there and simmer all day … It’s hard to boil a large pot of water. You can combat that by separating the beans into multiple jars to help get things moving and presoaking the beans helps.” For the interested, Hess recommends beginners purchase a solar cooking cookbook. “Someone has done all the trial and error!” As a vegan, she has gotten a vegan solar cooking cookbook, but she said the recipes were fancier than she wanted. “It was hippie wheat germ! I don’t make that. Wheat germ almond crust pie – that just sounds nasty.” So Hess went rogue and started making her own personal cookbook. Here are some of her recipes: Solar Chili 1 14oz can diced tomatoes 2 cans water 1 medium bell pepper cut into 1/2 inch cubes 1/2 cup corn (optional) 2 tsp salt 1/4 cup chili powder 1 Tbs cumin 2 tsp coriander 1 tsp red pepper flakes 1 tsp oregano 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper 1 tsp onion powder 1/2 tsp garlic powder 1/4 cup ketchup 1 cup of your favorite beans, drained (either dried beans pre-soaked overnight or canned) Open can of diced tomatoes and put into a very large canning jar. Refill the empty can of tomatoes with water and put in a total of two cans of water. Add all other ingredients. Shake vigorously. Place in a solar oven and cook for at least 4 hours in high sun (between 10am and 2pm). You can leave the chili in the cooker all day since it will not burn. Be aware that the longer the chili cooks, the softer the beans will become. - The key to steaming veggies is to not let them overcook. It will make them taste weird. I just wanted to stream the yellow squash and it came out perfect! Just put the food on the dash and the thermometer already says 100 degrees! I've been checking the temp and it's staying at a solid 175 even with the reflectors behind the jars. Two of the jars have chunks from one big russet potato and the third is dried mano coba beans and water. Looks like they are cooking well! Rosemary potatoes 5 small potatoes (any kind) 1 tsp olive oil 1 TBS dried rosemary Wash potatoes being sure to scrub away any dirt. It's okay if the potatoes are still damp. Put all potatoes into a very large canning jar. Add olive oil then rosemary. Put on the lid of the jar and shake to combine. Place the canning jar into a solar cooker and cook for at least 3 hours in high sun (from 10am to 2pm). It is okay to cook for longer, but be aware the potatoes will start to become very soft and may fall apart a little bit. The experts If you are interested in trying solar cooking for the first time yourself, you may be wondering whether it is best to build your own solar cooker, or to buy a finished solar cooker commercially. Take a look at how solar cookers work to help understand the principles of solar cooking. Building your own solar cooker can be fairly easy and inexpensive way to go. Various types of solar cookers that are available to build are listed at build a solar cooker off the website, . You will find information there comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each style of cooker. There are also many solar cookers available commercially. Commercial cookers are typically well made, and waterproof. The location of the retailer will be important to consider to avoid high shipping costs. Once you have decided on a cooker, you will need to find appropriate cookware. Thin-walled dark enameled metal cook pots work well. They are good at heating up quickly. Cast iron pots also work, and are typically preheated in the solar cooker before cooking. The advantage of the heavier pots is that they will help maintain an even cooking temperature if the sun is occasionally blocked by clouds, but most solar cooks seem to use the enamel pots. Because dark cooking pots work the best in solar cookers, it is important to remember to use a nontoxic paint for the exterior cook pot surface if you choose to darken your own pots. Consider the type of foods you will be preparing in your cooker. Solar panel cookers and solar box cookers are simple to use, and are best at baking and slow cooking, similar to crockpot cooking. Parabolic solar cookers will require frequent reorientation to the sun, but have the ability to fry foods and cook food on a griddle. Cooking guidelines will explain the best way to prepare specific food types. There are also many recipes of proven approaches to great dishes, but basically, most any recipe will work with the right solar cooker, by simply allowing for more cooking time. Most solar cooks will advise to not add much extra liquid when cooking, as you might do with traditional stovetop cooking. The natural juices of the food are retained when solar cooking. Courtesy of www.solarcookers.org
As in Seda’s case and that of other women around the world, solar cooking is about women’s issues. If a woman doesn’t have to spend hours a day walking to collect firewood, she could use that time growing crops for her family, or spending time with her kids, visiting her relatives or starting a business, Solar Cookers International Executive Director Julie Greene, said during an interview in the backyard of her Pocket area home.
Greene’s advocacy with solar cookers began after she read a Parade article about SCI’s involvement with a Jewish World Watch refugee camp. The inspiring article led her to buy one of the low-end SCI solar cookers, a Cook-It. With it, she did demos for her kids’ classes, which among things like learning more about the organization made SCI to become her favorite nonprofit for many years.
Greene loves her job because she feels like what she does matters. “I am lucky because I get to talk to people directly. John said to me (he’s our partner in Kenya), he said for you, in the States, it’s for emergencies only but for us, it’s a matter of life and death. I think of that almost every day,” Greene said.
Greene said a lot of the work SCI does not only educates people on how to solar cook but also how to find materials, which are natural to the people’s environments. “What happens if something breaks? There needs to be enough knowledge, enough materials,” she said. “And in places where there are no stores, people are always looking for cookers that could be made of local materials such as cardboard and foil,” Greene said.
The array of issues solar cooking impacts spans the gamut of women’s, health, poverty and the environment.
Besides the mere time savings a woman has for other things when cooking with the sun, their own personal safety is guarded, explained Greene.
“Women who are in refugee camps and are in a hostile environment, in some places where they leave the camps and walk 20 or 30 kilometers to collect firewood, they are raped, attacked or beaten as a warning to anyone else that they cannot take the scarce trees. ‘We don’t have enough for us.’ It’s understandable. People want to protect what little they have,” she said.
Similarly, for those who live in the desert and rely on finding twigs for firewood, having thousands of refugees from the camp collecting the twigs that the local people cannot even find, this causes a lot of tension.
“So to be able to provide a woman at a refugee camp with a solar cooker means she’s safe,” Greene said.
Besides helping to prepare food, the solar cookers have been used to pasteurize water.
In 72 water samplings in Kenya, 52 of them had E. coli, so SCI representatives taught people how to pasteurize water in a Cook-it. “It kills Giardia. It kills cholera, Hep A and rotavirus and all these things we are really familiar with,” Greene said. “We’ve been told the children stop complaining that their tummies hurt,” she said. Many people in Kenya believe that water is a gift from God and therefore drink from swamps and streams.
With depleted forests in Kenya due to increased population, many of the indigent would focus on the environment if their needs weren’t so great. “So if (SCI) can provide people with these (solar cookers), there are so many benefits,” Greene said.
Come see for yourself
SCI is currently getting ready for its annual Shine On! gathering at Sierra 2 on Aug. 14 and the general public is welcome to come celebrate the global importance of solar cooking. There will be plenty of food, wine, music, cooking displays, and more. If you are a supporter or simply want to know more about the importance of solar cooking, join SCI at the Sacramento Sierra 2 Community Center on Aug. 14.
Solar Cookers International is headquartered in Midtown at 1919 21st St. Suite 101
Sacramento, 95811. For more information, visit www.solarcookers.org
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Shine On annual SCI gathering (open to the public)
FEATURING: Dinner, wine, sun-baked desserts, Girl Scouts solar cooking display, silent auction, solar cooker sale. Monica Woods, News10 Meteorologist will MC. The event will also feature Julie Greene and Allart Ligtenberg, inventors of Trekkers’ Cooker backpack used at the summit of Mt. Everest
WHERE: Sierra 2, 2791 24th St., Sacramento, 95818
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 5:30 – 8 p.m.