Cooking with a Solar Oven
February 22, 2010

Probably I’m way behind the eight-ball here, but I’d never really thought much about solar ovens before I visited my sister Cathy and her family in northern California last Labor Day weekend. Cathy took me to a dinner party at the home of Alice Friedemann and her husband, Jeffery Kahn, the webmaster at UC Berkeley. Alice is a freelance journalist specializing in energy and peak oil issues. She is also developing a cookbook on whole-grain cooking, and has experimented with using a manual grain grinder and solar ovens to make truly sustainable and awesome breads.

In this video she talks about using a solar oven. Alice bought hers but recommends building your own.

Alice says she’s still trying to figure out solar cooking. She thinks the plastic on her oven needs replacing and that may be creating less than stellar (solar?) results. But she feels it’s worth the effort because solar cooking is going to become more and more important in the future.

Besides learning about solar ovens that evening, we were treated to a sumptuous dinner featuring Alice’s homemade whole-grain flatbread along with beets, basil and Early Girl tomatoes from Jeffery’s amazing garden.

I was totally in awe of Alice and Jeffery’s gardening skills. First of all, the way things grow in sunny California, something like rosemary, found in Iowa as a small plant, grows as big as a tree. But it was more than the climate, it was super smart brains at work.

Check out this rather perfect apple tree that grows in Alice and Jeffery’s back yard. A neighbor grafted it with four different strains, so you stroll around the tree and find four types of apples, including Pink Lady and Misui.

According to Alice, most nurseries these days sell apple trees with more than one strain of apples grafted into them, but still, you seldom see such perfect looking trees in someone’s yard.

Says Alice, the trick to getting a lot of apples is to rigorously cut back the tree before spring (in California sometime in January or February) but not snipping off the buds that will produce apples. Later, you’ll get clusters of more than two, and you need to get rid of all but one or you’ll have very small apples and many will fall off in addition if you don’t, wasting the tree’s energy.

After dinner we peer through the telescope from Alice and Jeffery’s second-story balcony, and catch a rare glimpse of the Bay Bridge without any cars (closed for major repairs over Labor Day).

Now I feel inspired to make my own solar oven, but will have to wait until spring as the sun is at too much of an angle now. Will let you know how that goes.

For free directions to make your own solar cooker go to

Additional links on Alice Friedemann