Have you heard about hot box, hay box or cook box cooking? It’s the new-old way to cook that saves energy, improves flavor and increases the nutrition in your food, and frees up your time. All you do is heat up your food to boiling then retain that heat by insulating the hot pot of food until the cooking process is completed. The only energy expended is in the initial heating as the residual heat is what finishes the cooking with no more inputs needed from you or the grid. It is a very energy efficient, easy, straightforward way to cook and is almost foolproof. You cannot burn or overcook your food using this method. Meats come out juicy, rice and other grains come out perfectly cooked without danger of overcooking. Cook boxes are perfect for stews and soups. In fact, just about anything you would cook in a slow cooker or crock pot you can cook using this method. It does take extra time. You do have to plan ahead, but you can start your meal early in the day, then go about your normal business, go to work, go visiting, or whatever you want to do and by dinner time, you will have a great meal that is wonderfully cooked, and you haven’t heated up your house or wasted energy doing it.
While surfing the internet, I found a wonderful eBook that teaches all about hot box or hay box cooking, with a modern twist. One of the first things you will read in Retained Heat Cooking … the Wave of the Future Again, Discover How Easy it is to Make and Use Your Own Off-the-Grid Cook Box to Cook Uncommonly Good Food – A Frugal, Time Honored Method of Cooking That Saves Time, Space, Money, Resources, Nutrition and Electricity is the history of hot box cooking as it has a rich history. Did you know that people were trying to conserve energy as far back as the early 1900s? Even the government was trying to get people to conserve on fuel, including cooking fuels, especially during the war, so hotbox cooking was promoted as a way to save or conserve energy.
The next thing you will learn about is the science behind hotbox cookers or cook boxes. It’s really very simple, even a caveman could do it, sorry, wrong commercial. We know that ancient Indians (Native Americans) as well as other native peoples all over the world and throughout history used this technology to cook great meals
Leslie Romano has put a new twist on an old method, replacing hay with modern insulating materials that most of us have around the house. You should not have to go out and buy anything to make this version of the hot box cooker, or as Leslie calls it, the off-the-grid cook box. You do not have to be an engineer or have a degree in anything to construct an effective off-the-grid cook box.
Leslie teaches you how to make a very simple, yet ingenious instant off-the-grid cook box using common, household materials. You can also very easily take the knowledge gained from this eBook and build a more permanent and even decorative hot box cooker, or you could just continue using the simple one. You might even consider trying out several different hotbox cookers using different materials and then have several hotbox cookers to use and experiment with when you are done.
In this inexpensive eBook, you are given a variety of methods for making different sized hotbox cookers, using easy to find materials. There are many suggestions and advice included such as the more often you plan on using your cooker, the sturdier you will want to make it and what dimensions to consider for your cooking needs and so on.
Think about the holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays or other times when you will have a lot of people over to eat and you are making big meals to feed a multitude of people. You will probably use every burner on the stove top, you will fill your oven, and your microwave will be going full force. How nice would it be if even half of these foods could be started on the stove top or oven ahead of time and cooked in a hotbox cooker? That would free up valuable cooking real estate (stove top, oven…) for other foods. Any dish that needs to be or can be cooked long and slow can be started on the stove and then finished in your hotbox cooker. If the food needs to be browned, then it’s a simple matter to pop it under the broiler for a few minutes to add that finishing touch. And just think that with all of those dishes cooked in a hotbox cooker, you don’t have to worry about overcooking or drying them out. Also, the heat you are using to cook your foods will be doing what it is supposed to be doing, heating your food, not your kitchen. Plus you are free to focus on other, more important things during such important times, such as your guests.
In Retained Heat Cooking … the Wave of the Future Again, you will also find a multitude of links, books and other reference material that deepens your understanding and provides extra information. I spent an afternoon reading the various blogs and websites she linked to that discuss hot box cooking. It turns out that there are a lot of talented people out there using various versions of this type of cooker, and Leslie points you to many of these people. It is great to have a broader perspective on this simple, timeless technology.
There is a wonderful story in this eBook about how Leslie went without a refrigerator for a period of time. She remarks about the “ahhh” factor of the silence the moment they unplugged their refrigerator. Have you ever had the electricity go out for a while and noticed just how quiet, the QUIET really is? I mean real quiet, silence. It truly is golden. We are surrounded in our daily lives with motors, machines, fans and compressors. We get so used to this constant drone that we don’t even realize how much noise we are really living with. So for every machine with its accompanying noise that we can lessen or eliminate completely, the better it is for our health and sanity as well as our pocketbooks. For Leslie, unplugging her refrigerator ended up leading her to discovering how to cook with a cook box.
Leslie teaches you how to set up a simple hot box cooker, what to cook in it and how to cook in it. She teaches the basics as well as shares some mouthwatering recipes to get you started. Honestly, once you get the basics down, you will find yourself converting your own recipes to use in your off-the-grid cook box. It’s quite simple and you might even wonder to yourself why you didn’t think of this before.
Here are some videos to watch:
You can even use your cooker to make yogurt. It’s very easy to do and you don’t need special equipment, just a few easy to get household items, and you are well on your way to making a healthy alternative to the overpriced, chemically enhanced junk they sell in stores.
Whether you are trying to go green and save energy, or you are looking for an inexpensive way to cook (saving money and energy) or you need a better way to cook when you are off the grid (or camping, going to the beach and such…), this eBook is just what you need.
I also love and appreciate the heartfelt prayer she includes at the end of this eBook.
I came up with a few questions to ask Leslie and she was kind enough to answer:
1. How and when did you learn about this method of cooking?
We unplugged our refrigerator for a while last winter in order to inch our way towards living off the grid, but for various reasons our alternatives were not quite working out. The day we reluctantly plugged it back in, I was in the kitchen trying to figure out what to make for dinner while also feeling very restless to somehow “make up” for having had to plug the frig back in. A couple of lines in one of my cookbooks tipped me off and I made dinner that night in a spontaneously constructed cook box. It was fabulous and we were all hooked immediately!
2. How often do you use this method of cooking?
It varies with season. In the winter, we use it daily or even a couple of times a day. In the summer, we use it anywhere from nearly daily to several times a week. As we learn more about how to use a cook box effectively, we are finding more and more ways to use it. It took us some time to figure out the best way to cook rice, for instance, and pasta dishes. With time, I think we will figure out so many ways of using our cook box that we will just always be using it. Perhaps someday the question of note will become, “How many times did you use your oven?” I look forward to that.
3. What made you decide to write about this method of cooking?
Experience and research. When I ate the soup that came out of the cook box the first time I used it, I was amazed. Each ingredient was perfectly cooked for that ingredient. I mean that soup was yummy and the whole family noticed it. It was a soup that could have easily burned because of the flour in it, by the way, but the pot was clean and easy to wash up at the end. That really got my attention also. Gradually I realized that cooking in a cook box is a low heat method of cooking which, therefore, preserves nutrients. I think that is really important as I am committed to slow cooking and natural methods of preparing foods. Finally I started actually researching the subject. I learned about the use of cook boxes in developing countries. I learned that you save 20% – 80% of your cooking fuel using a cook box. I learned so many exciting and interesting things about cooking with cook boxes or hay boxes that I decided to write an e-book so that hopefully many other people would learn these things too and find the same benefits we have found. Plus what a difference it would make to the world both in terms of human health, environmental health and budgetary health if many, many people all over the world used simple cook boxes for much of their cooking. I am on fire with that vision. I figured an e-book was a simple step to take to help make that happen even a little. My husband also put a couple of videos up on our You Tube channel that show our instant cook box and provide a brief explanation of the whole thing.
I also wanted to write about this method of cooking so that I could weave cook box cooking into modern life. It isn’t just a cooking method for agricultural workers on their way to the fields any more. It is perfect for large families and small. It saves energy and preserves nutrition which are modern day concerns. It works with thermodynamics, eases the strain on deforested areas and requires less water which are also modern day concerns. People these days are so used to instant comfort and convenience that often the advantages of carrying out the activities of daily life in simpler ways are not obvious. So I wrote an entire section on some of the terrific advantages to cook box cooking that might not be immediately apparent to the modern reader. Finally being a homeschooler myself, I also added a section that provides lots of ideas spanning science, history, math, life skills and creative thinking and problem solving for homeschoolers or after-schoolers so that this great addition to the kitchen can also be a great addition to the education of the family. After all, the direction of the future is being determined now – especially with our children.
4. What is your favorite recipe to cook in the hotbox cooker?
Well, let’s see. It is hard to choose a favorite because anything you cook in a cook box tastes better than on the stove top. I love jasmine rice cooked in whey in a cook box because the rice comes out perfectly, is extra flavorful and nutritious from being cooked in whey but does doesn’t scorch the bottom of the pot and so is easy to clean up. I love a continuous leftover soup my husband made all winter that included pasta that never got mushy even though all the other ingredients were thoroughly cooked. I love using the cook box to incubate milk while it is turning into cheese when the kitchen is cold. So many favorites… If I were going to pick a recipe, though, I guess I would choose “Going Off the Grid Lentil Soup” because it is the first recipe I made in a cook box and is delicious. As a matter of fact, I included that recipe in the e-book. I hope everyone tries it and experiences the same delicious “aha!” that I did.
5. What does your family think of this? Do you get strange looks from friends and family when you cook in the hotbox cooker?
My family loves it. They appreciate how wonderful the food tastes and they benefit from the time savings. The children appreciate it because it allows them to contribute to the cooking in a very meaningful, foolproof way. Also when I am deep into writing and editing, my husband does a lot of the cooking and he finds using a cook box makes this much easier. He also enjoys being inventive with it and is good at it. He has come up with some great innovations and recipes.
I don’t get strange looks because the people around me kind of expect this sort of thing from me, I guess. Besides, I get so excited in telling them all about it that they usually walk away in wonder rather than in perplexity. So far, most people seem to really enjoy learning about this way of cooking naturally and inexpensively. It is such a discovery to realize that you can do this. This seems to light other people up just like it does me.
6. How many cookers do you have?
We have one large one. I would like to have a large one and a medium sized one at some point as we are a large family. But just the one cook box does wonderfully well for us so we are content.
7. Have you made a permanent cooker?
We haven’t yet, interestingly enough. Our instant cook box works really, really well and we are otherwise terrifically busy so the available time and resources have not yet been available to make a permanent cook box. My husband has a wonderful idea for making a permanent one that is also a kitchen island. We are gradually accumulating the supplies to make that a reality. I look forward to including a description of the final product in a future e-book.
8. Is there anything you would like to add here, anything you want us to know about you or anything else?
My husband and I were both raised in a sort of typical middle class, corporate American way. As adults we discovered that this type of upbringing did not position us very well for facing such an uncertain future as the one we are all now facing. It also didn’t position us to enjoy a rich, intimate family life. So we made a choice to go in a new direction that we felt made sense for us, for our future, for our children and for the world around us. We are now a homesteading, homeschooling family of eight that every day discovers a new way to live a little bit more naturally and to become a better and better team, as it were. We are so grateful for this new way of life that is so much work but which brings peace and satisfaction, and produces adaptable, cooperative, skilled children complete with highly developed senses of imagination and humor that we want to share whatever we can in case it may be helpful to others doing the hard work of also changing their way of life. To that end we formed the Pockets of the Future project which includes web sites and blogs, videos. We also formed Bamboo Grove Press in order to publish books and now e-books. It is hard to live a steep-learning-curve-life and then find time to write about it too, but we try.
Changing the whole orientation of your life and your way of living your daily life can be a daunting task since the necessary knowledge, experience and skills are usually scarce. Many people write to us saying, “Help…” Where to start? Where to get the needed resources? How to think about it? What about the children? and so on. We have experienced over and over again that if you long for a better way, a simpler way, a more intimate, more natural way of life and you are willing to actually do something about it, then a thread to pull or a hint to follow up on or a step to take will always appear. If you pull that thread, follow that hint or take that step, then the next bit will always appear. Always. Soon the threads and hints and steps will become a torrent with which you can barely keep pace but that is perhaps a separate problem. In the meantime, we hope that our e-books and videos and beginning experiences will provide at least a little inspiration and information.
Thank you Leslie for answering these questions, I feel like I know you better now and understand more about your life and the reasons why you chose to use this alternative method of cooking. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with me and the world.
Don’t forget to check out Leslie’s other eBook, On Your Way Towards Solar Cooking: The Why’s and Wherefore’s of Solar Cooking in Brief. You can find both of these eBooks at a very reasonable price here: http://www.bamboogrovepress.com/Ebooks.htm
http://www.bamboogrovepress.com/Ebooks.htm (e-books and title of Retained Heat Cooking)
http://www.youtube.com/user/pocketsofthefuture (You Tube channel)
http://www.pocketsofthefuture.com/ (Pockets of the Future project)
http://www.bamboogrovepress.com/index.htm (Bamboo Grove Press)
Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site
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