We have learned a very simple idea that greatly reduces the energy (fuel) needed to cook. Stoves take lots of electricity, gas, or wood, depending on what kind you use. What if you could cut your fuel or electricity usage for cooking by 50-70% using items you already have on hand? An added bonus with this idea is you will never burn anything!
There are several names for this age-old method of conserving energy, including haybox, wonderbox, or heat-retention cooking. It is so simple and only takes a minute or two and a little planning ahead.
First bring the pot of food to a boil or to the temperature it needs to be until all of the contents are thoroughly heated, depending on the size and density of the food particles. Then remove the pot from the heat and place it into a well insulated container to keep the heat inside the pot. This utilizes heat already in the pot to finish cooking without continual energy usage. It may take up to twice as long to cook this way, but it cuts energy consumption way down.
You can purchase a Wonderbox or find a pattern to make one, but when you live in a small house like we do you don’t want extra things using precious space. For our method you need the following:
Bath towel (optional)
Let’s use a pot of brown rice as an example. I place the pot of rice and water on the stove and add spices while bringing it to a boil. I allow it to boil two or three minutes while I assemble a basket “slow cooker,” placing a big blanket in the bottom and partly up the sides of a laundry basket.
I stir the rice, place the lid on, make sure it’s still boiling, then lower it into the basket. If the contents could seep out of the pot I use a bath towel around it to avoid washing blankets. I fit a medium sized blanket snuggly over the pot and tuck the corners inside the big blanket . Then I place one or two other blankets on top, since heat will most likely escape there if it can.
Then I set the basket aside out of traffic for about 1 ½ hrs. When we’re ready for dinner we pull it out and serve with whatever topping we prepared.
For our family we cook three or four cups of dry brown rice at a time (in a three or four quart pot). Normally it takes about 12 minutes to bring a big pot of brown rice to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, then 40 more minutes of simmering on the stove top. That is a total of around 52 minutes of stovetop cooking. Using the basket cooker method I cut stovetop cooking down by 77%, completely cutting out that 40 minutes of simmering.
It takes between one to two times longer cooking this way, which should be calculated in advance, but timing is not nearly as critical as when using the stove.
We are not big meat eaters, but I know others have cooked meat successfully (smaller pieces) if heated thoroughly before placing it in the basket cooker. Dry beans, stews, lentils, pasta and potatoes can be successfully cooked in this way. Boil bigger particles a bit longer before removing from the stove to make sure they are hot all the way through. More specific information can be found here.
Every Sunday our house church has a potluck, so our food must stay hot for several hours, waiting to be served after church. We used to keep it warm in an electric crockpot or on a warmer. Now we just pack it in our basket cooker, and it’s ready to serve hot at lunch time. It can finish cooking during the service, or we allow a completely cooked dish to cool to serving temperature and place it in the cooker just to keep it hot. If someone asks about bringing laundry to church, we smile and pull out the pot. 🙂
The best dry beans I’ve ever made were cooked using our basket cooker. I used to soak my pinto beans overnight, drain the water in the morning (to “de-gas” them), then add fresh water and cook them for 1 ½ to two hours before adding the final ingredients and simmering for another 20 minutes. I would let them set for at least eight hours for the flavors to mingle well before reheating and serving.
Recently I tried using the basket cooker with great results. I soaked the beans all day, drained them and added fresh water in the evening (along with garlic, olive oil and salt) and brought them to a boil for several minutes right before bedtime. I placed them in the basket overnight and when I got up in the morning they were absolutely perfect!! I added the final ingredients (vinegar, honey, cummin, and onions) and barely brought it to a boil before placing it back in the basket. It “simmered” in there all day, and that evening was ready to serve. It was so easy, and the beans were very tender and flavorful, with no mushiness. I was sorry I hadn’t tried it before.
It is wise to be familiar with this cooking method for emergency situations with limited fuel. It allows a little fuel go a long way, making it possible to store whole foods for a crisis which may need longer cooking times. Your back-up cooking plan may include a camp stove of some kind, a solar cooker, or an open fire. Either way, being able to use a “slow cooker” with no fuel will be helpful.
Many variations of this cooker can be made, so use your imagination and make use of what is readily available. Any tub, basket, crate, box or even a hole in the ground will do for a container, and the insulating material could be a sleeping bag, pillows, towels, jackets, hay or other materials that won’t melt or emit toxic fumes. Use common sense with flammable materials. The possibilities are endless, but the key is to make it thick enough with no way for the heat to escape. If you like to sew, here is a pattern for a Wonder Box.
If you find this idea helpful, you will find more ideas for preparing food to store and cook efficiently for your everyday use or emergency purposes in How to Prepare a Family Emergency Food Storage Plan: Giving the Frugal Family Confidence to Survive in the Face of a Crisis. Silver Oak and I wrote this eBook after years of practicing a rotating emergency food storage system for our family. Our budget has not allowed us to purchase expensive emergency foods, and we believe it’s healthier and more efficient for stored emergency food to consist mostly of what we normally eat. We live in hot, muggy, buggy Florida, and with our methods have rarely needed dessicants, Mylar, or other such supplies.
How to Prepare a Family Emergency Food Storage Plan spells out our entire plan with many alternatives to fit your family’s needs. The price is currently discounted by 33% for a limited time.
God bless you with wisdom to live prepared.