For nearly nine years, I’ve walked, biked and motored by neighbor Steve’s driveway. Off to the side but appearing to move gradually of their own accord have been two wedge-shaped plastic enclosures, placed to suck up sunlight and churn out seven-bean casseroles.
While the Sun likely has a few more years of light-producing fuel on its surface and deep in its core, it was time this spring to hurry up and take advantage of one of Colorado’s finest crops. No, not that one. Solar radiation, Active Junky readers, as the region harvests as many sunny days annually as San Diego.
Solavore became the focus of all that’s good or ponderous about solar cooking, offering their Sport model up for testing. Not only complete with a water purification indicator for H2O-compromised settings, this unit arrived with an optional metal reflector and the promise of double the captured energy in a crock-pot like appliance.
After a number of set-it-and-forget-it cooking sessions, along with some more closely monitored spin-to-follow-the-Sun attempts, the truth (small “t” in this case) can be told, throwing caution to the solar winds. Five discoveries came forth in rapid succession.
Discovery #1: It really works. Really.
The oversized black plastic form is, indeed, a magnet for even fleeting sunlight during variable cloud coverage. While blue skies are best, ten minutes here and there of compromised radiation did nothing to dissuade the Sport from going to work, taking from 50 to 90 minutes to fully cook side dishes, entrees and even vanilla white cake. The flatter enamelware cookware included made sure ingredients weren’t stacked too thick to be able to cook consistently.
Discovery #2: What looks like condensation is hydration.
Every dish came out plumper, juicier and more flavorful than if cooked in a steamer, oven or on a grill. Flavors of vegetables were nuanced, textures fuller and more satisfying after cooking with the Solavore. Yes, some additional planning and recipe adjustment are required but can bring new riffs on regional and national cuisines including South African and Indian recipes. This is your chance to try new recipes along with experiencing a little-understood cooking methodology.
Discovery #3: Optional reflectors are mandatory.
To keep solar relevant with other cooking methods, it needs to minimize the time to completion. In addition, meat dishes must be prepared with greater confidence by employing higher temperatures and more sustained cooking conditions. While they add expense to the project, reflectors pop up and fold down in less than 60 seconds, requiring inconsequential storage space for the notable gain in cooking power.
Discovery #4: Cleaning and draining the unit isn’t optional, either.
With so much moisture retained inside the oven both from the food and trapped air, some condensation is bound to seep into the solar cooker’s tiny joints. Simply wiping it down with a clean, damp cloth and propping Solavore upside down at an angle to drain was all the “maintenance” needed. Periodic checking of lid clips and reflector springs prevent loose seals or rattling in the wind in a system designed for a decade or more of reliable service.
Discovery #5: Teach your car to love solar – but keep its distance.
Orienting the solar oven to the sun takes some practice, as does reading the included, sealed-in thermometer during the process. Ditto for avoiding foot and vehicle traffic if the cooker is placed on a driveway, stoop or sidewalk. While more secluded spots may be workable and less accident-prone, putting the Black Box in the public eye is a great way to start conversations. Perhaps even enjoy a meal together as neighbors.
After all, we share the same solar system. Along with the identical Sun.
Read the entire review on Active Junky.