Solar Ovens and Little Girls

by Ben N on September 25, 2014

Recently, I was at the Seven Springs resort in Pennsylvania at the Mother Earth News Fair. I had a bit of “mad money” with me and got a good show-special deal on a solar oven that was based on evacuated tubes used in the solar heating industry.

A few days ago, my order arrived in the mail. I immediately used it to solar re-heat the previous night’s left-overs, with good results – piping-hot Chinese Chicken while working in my driveway.

Today, I was doing work to get ready for this coming weekend’s Milwaukee MakerFaire. At the same time, my wife took our little girl, Sophia, to the library for a cooking activity. She came home with a small bag of dough that she made herself (with only a little help from the librarian‚Ķ)

The idea was that children could take home their dough and have their parents bake it in their own oven.
“Sophie, how would you like to bake it in the SOLAR oven?” Her eyes lit up, followed immediately by a very enthusiastic “YES!!!!”

In the kitchen, I asked Sophie to roll the dough out into a breadstick shape as I got the baking tray for the solar oven and hit it with a coat of buttery-flavored cooking spray. She put the dough in the tray and carried it outside as I got the oven and folded it open to set it in the sunny driveway.

Sophie naturally tried to set the baking tray right at the focus of the reflectors – It was funny to see that she instinctively seemed to know the right location to put the food. Less obvious was how the tray actually loads into the evacuated tube from the end. I showed her how and let her slide the bread dough into the oven.

She eyed the oven with glee and impatience. I explained that it would take a while to bake, so she headed back inside.

I kept a bare minimum amount of attention on the oven while I worked in the garage and driveway, occasionally eyeing the steam coming out, and watching the long late-in-the-day shadow of the house stretching towards the solar oven. I moved it once to get it back into the light and smelled that unmistakable scent of  steaming hot bread.

When it was about time, I called Sophie back out of the house and had her take the bread out. Although the inside of the oven can be hundreds of degrees, you can put your hand right on the glass tube to hold it in place while pulling the tray out of the oven. While some parents would never let a small child bake with an oven in the house, my not-quite-four-year-old was baking from scratch with nothing more than sunlight and stuck her hand right on the oven with narry a burn.

I just made sure that she didn’t touch the stainless steel of the baking tray as she carried it back into the house to set it on our cutting board. Next came the butter. There’s always room for butter.

The hot breadstick disappeared quickly by greedy bite-fulls. I was fortunate to get one nibble before it vanished completely.

It was pretty amazing to see my little girl do almost all the work herself. How many other children this age bake from scratch, and do it with renewable energy to boot?

It’s said that children are our future. When I see things like this, the future is looking pretty bright indeed.


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