Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More on Solar Cooking--Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!

I've been meaning to tell you more about solar cooking, which we're finally getting a hang of this summer. We have a Sun Oven that C bought me for Mother's Day a couple of years ago. That first summer, it imparted a funny smell/taste to food, which I think may have been the paint off-gassing (yikes) and last year we didn't get much sun, so this summer was the first time we've had a chance to really see what it can do.

I love to pile an eggplant cut in half lengthwise, a couple of handfuls of baby potatoes and cherry tomatoes, all drizzled with olive oil and a full bulb of garlic on top and turn what comes out at the end of the day into a variety of pizza toppings and salad fixin's. I have also had excellent luck putting in a pan of dried (and soaked) pinto beans...they come out the perfect texture, with nary a one broken from overly aggressive simmering. Garbanzos seemed to need more time (or more sun?) and leaving rice in for the day just creates rice mush, but if I were home to tend it, it would work fine.

Lately I've been using it to preserve tomatoes. We use lots and lots of canned tomatoes over the winter (pizza and spaghetti sauce and C's specialty, tomato-rice soup) and I would like to minimize the expense and use of resources (energy in the canning, transporting, etc.). We've had a decent tomato crop, and I was lucky enough to be able to pick from a garden of a friend's neighbor who had way over-planted. (Oh, yeah, and we just got a chest freezer).

The bounty:

To solar-cook, I just core the tomatoes (we're not picky about seeds), cram as many as I can fit into the roasting pan, add a handful of peeled garlic cloves, a couple of chopped onions, some fresh basil and oregano, a spoonful of salt, a shake of red pepper flakes, a few gratings of nutmeg and a few pinches of fennel seed.

It goes in looking like this:

And comes out like this (anywhere from a couple of hours to all day, depending on the sun-to-cloud ratio):

I pull the skins off with tongs, run it through the blender and pour it into yogurt tubs.

Right now the tubs are the limiting factor in our productivity: we have tons of lids of one brand and tons of bottoms of the other (because the bottoms of the first brand and lids of the second brand were #2 plastic, and therefore recyclable). Plus, I think my hands have permanently taken on that funky cooked tomato smell. You know the one? And the extra dishwasher runs may cancel out any energy we save in not canning. We still have a fairly hefty pile of tomatoes (and more on the vines), so I may (inspired by Rachel at 6512) turn to making catsup to use them all up (we do love our catsup around
here...and I do love to spell that word the old-fashioned way...I have a thing for words that sound nothing like they're spelled. Is there a word for those? Absurdonyms?).

In other low-carbon preserving news, I attempted to sun-dry these little tomatoes in the sun:

but not much happened. I ended up moving the operation (and adding a sprinkling of sugar, salt and thyme) to a low oven for about an eternity. The didn't end up as tangy-chewy as commercial sun-drieds, and I had to freeze them anyway (the recipe said they would keep a few weeks in the fridge), but they will be good on pizza.


  1. Grandpa made catsup one time. It took forever to cook, but, boy, was it yummy!! Much better than the stuff that you buy. And I can guarantee that there was no high fructose corn syrup in it!


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