Smells evoke memories, especially the smell of food. Remember when you came home from school and an intoxicating savory aroma would dance you directly into the kitchen? In my case, it was the scent of dinner simmering in the electric crock -pot, (an ingenious culinary invention from the 70s). My full time working mother raised my brother and I pretty much all on her own. Her passion was cooking gourmet, partly to help her finicky boys eat well- balanced meals, but mainly because she adored truly good food. (Hollandaise sauce from scratch will help anyone eat broccoli and keep a gourmand smiling). Sadly, there was rarely the time, let alone the energy, to prepare elaborate meals. Cooking with a crockpot was the compromise, and Mom made even this culinary shortcut as elegant as possible.
I have ever thus craved the taste of that slow cooked memory, but devices like crock -pots suck energy and that makes no sense in a humble off grid home. So how does one replicate crock pot cooking? A solar oven! A simple insulated, glass fronted box with reflectors to harness the free clean energy of the sun.
Our first solar oven came from Real Goods store in Hopland Ca., back then, pre-_Amazon and the dark ages to some folks, it was the only option for off- grid needs. I hoped to use the “store-bought” model as a template for my improved future design. That project is still on the long list but we have used that “first” solar oven to the point of decrepitude. Think it is high time to bump the solar oven -building project onto the short list.
Twenty years later and I can still recall the first meal prepared ala solar; peppered pork rump. Having paid close attention when my mom was in her kitchen, I know well what steps to take to ensure a tender and flavorful meal. Firstly, with our premiere harvest of sun-dried ground peppers I coated the rump thoroughly and seared it off in a super hot cast iron crock. (We haunted thrift shops for the perfect “solar crock-pot” and our efforts paid off with a well- seasoned cast iron complete with snug fitting lid, only $5). Next, chopped onions, garlic, carrots, fennel root and a bit of water go into the “crock”. Lastly, gently set the lidded pot into the pre-heated solar oven. I recall our fascination and anticipation as the glass of the solar oven grew steamy and heavenly aromas wafted forth. We ate that melt in your mouth meal with such satisfaction and it felt like Mom was smiling with us. This is dedicated to you Ellen Rose, Happy Mother’s Day, you are with me always, especially when I’m in the kitchen.