Archive for the 'cooking' Category

How to Save Energy (and Money) when Cooking

Sharon December 2nd, 2008

Note: I’m going to be frantically finishing my next book _Independence Days_ which is about the ties between sustainable food systems and food preservation and storage.  This means not as much time to post new stuff.  So I thought I’d run a few old columns – after all, I’ve been writing this blog for years now, and my readership has expanded a lot, so hopefully some of the old content will be valuable to people. Apologies to those who are already familiar with this stuff.  More new come January, when I get to breathe again.  This one is from May, 2007, just as we were about to start the Riot for Austerity, as I was thinking how to get our energy cost for cooking down.

In the spirit of our really riotous reduction, I’ve been thinking about how to cut my cooking energy down as much as possible. Here are 25 ways I’ve come up with to cut cooking energy.

1. Turn off the stove/oven before you are finished. This is fairly simple – when you soup is almost hot, turn off the stove – it will continue to heat for a while. When your bread is 15 minutes short of baked, turn off the oven and let it sit in the hot oven. You can do this for longer with things that are hotter for longer, or less sensitive, like casseroles. Be cautious with meat – you don’t want food poisoning. Experiment.

2. Eat more salads, sandwiches and raw foods that don’t require cooking.

3. Make a hay box cooker – insulated a box with a blanket, hay or other good insulator. Get your food nice and hot, and then put it in that insulated box and let the retained heat do the cooking.

4. Use a pressure cooker – they save a lot of time when cooking beans, grains, stews and such.  Modern pressure cookers don’t explode like the old ones did, so don’t be scared!

5. Capture heat whenever you can. Instead of heating up several pots of water for tea or soup each day, heat that water and put it in a thermos, and use it for tea when you need it.  If the stove has residual heat, stick your kettle on the burner to warm up the water. 

6. Use a wood cookstove to heat your house and cook at the same time. Save heavy canning and long cooking projects for times when you would be heating the house anyhow whenever possible – for example, canning applesauce can often wait until winter if you have varieties of apples that store well.

7. Or, if you heat with wood but don’t have a cookstove, cook on your heating stove. Put your kettle on the stove. Keep soup on the back of the stove. Have someone build a sheet metal oven for you (just a metal box with a door) that will enable you to bake on the stove.

8. Build an earth or masonry oven outside and use twigs and other scrap wood to bake and cook. A hot earth oven will stay hot enough for you to start by making pizza, then move down to bread, stew and finally dehydrating. Info in _Build Your Own Earth Oven_ by Kiko Denzer and _Capturing Heat Two_ by Still, Hatfield and Scott of the Aprovecho Research Center.

9. Build or buy a solar oven. Instructions for making your own are available on many sites, and in _Capturing Heat: Five Earth Friendly Cooking Technologies and How to Build Them_ by Still and Kness of the source above. The Maria Telkes Solar Cooker gets a bit hotter than some other models, as do the commercial ones.  Tom at Sustainable Choice (who advertises on the sidebar of the blog) sells commercial Sunovens, and we’ve been very happy with ours, although we got along for a good long time with homemade versions.

10. Build a solar dehydrator for food preservation instead of using an electric one. Here’s a cool one:

11. Don’t preheat your oven – that is, put your food in while the oven is preheating to capture that heating energy. The only exceptions where this isn’t a good idea are a few really delicate baked goods, but generally this works fine, although you may have to slightly adjust your timing. Practice makes perfect.

12. If you have an electric stove or oven, convert to natural gas or propane – they are much more efficient ways of making heat.  Or at least convert to convection heating, which uses less energy than conventional electric stoves. 

13. Build a rocket stove or rocket bread oven as seen in the first _Capturing Heat_ – a rocket stove uses biomass fuel much more efficiently than a woodstove or earth oven. A rocket bread oven can cook 20 loaves at a time.

14. Have a baking day, or two a week. Do all your oven work then and store your baked goods. 

15. Use a crockpot if you have an electric stove – a crockpot generally will use less energy than an electric stove, although not a gas one.  It can also save a lot of time and energy if you’ve been eating take out – it uses a lot less energy, generally, than driving for fast food.

16. Only bake in a full oven – plan ahead and while you are baking your bread, also consider roasting a pan of vegetables or baking that pie you’ll want later.

17. Don’t open your oven or remove pot lids more often than necessary. Keep the heat in.  Never boil water or heat anything without a lid.

18. Use a microwave instead of a stove (I personally hate microwaves, but they are more efficient than conventional stoves).

19. Make large batches of things and reheat, cooking less often (although this might not make sense if you could give up fridge or freezer otherwise – think it through carefully).

20. Lactoferment pickles, kimchi, etc… and don’t can them. Just keep them in a cool place, and save the canning energy.

21. Switch from a coffee percolator to a press coffee maker.

22. Soak beans overnight in cold water to reduce cooking time.

23. Use cast iron or other heavy cookware that retains heat better than cheap aluminum. That way, you can turn things off even sooner.

24. Make your own low-heat charcoal, cook over the process, and then use agrichar to improve your garden soil.

25. Get your cat to sit on the butter warmer (covered of course) when you need it melted. Ok, this one isn’t a real suggestion, but I’m one short, and it probably would work, if you could persuade the cat not to eat the butter.



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