I don't remember for sure exactly how this project got started but I was over at Brad and Gina Shaw's house here in Cotahuasi, Peru, where we work as missionaries. Brad was talking about trying to make solar cookers to help the people here. One of our church members was looking for a new burro to replace his mother's burro that had died. She needed the burro to haul firewood for cooking. Because Cotahuasi is a large village and a majority of people still use wood cooking fires, the nearby sources of firewood have been depleted. It takes her a full day every week to go and get a week's worth of firewood. Without a burro, for more details visit to www.chow-chows-secrets.com she would have to go oftener and bring back less wood each time; only what she could carry on her back. Our area usually gets eight to nine months of sunshine a year so solar seems like a good option for a supplemental cooking source. Brad also mentioned the need for more fuel-efficient wood stoves, rather than just a fire on the ground with three stones to support the pot.
Brad had seen a large parabolic solar cooker in Tomepampa, a village about 20 minutes away. He suggested we go look at it so we hopped in the car and went right away. The cooker wasn't at the home where he had previously seen it, but they told us where it currently was and we were able to go and look at it. It was about five feet in diameter, for more details visit to www.cooking-groundbeef.com made of shiny sheet metal attached to a framework of angle iron and a parabolic dish made of one-inch wide metal bars. We were told that it cooked quite rapidly and worked well, so we took measurements and lots of pictures to guide us in making one. However we knew it wouldn't be an immediate solution to the mother's problem because the shiny metal wasn't available here in Cotahuasi.
That evening I did some research on the Web to learn as much as possible about solar cookers and hopefully find some plans for building one. I did see a photo of one that looked very similar to the one we saw, but there were no plans for making it. One of the best sites I found was that of Solar Cookers International, based in Sacramento, CA. Their website is included below; they have many different types of cookers and the plans to make them available as downloadable PDF files. I was anxious to make one right away, rather than waiting until after my next trip to Arequipa where I could hopefully find the materials for the large one we had looked at.
They had smaller parabolic ones, some of them using an umbrella for the parabolic form; others required building your own out of cardboard or wood. The plans that caught my eye were for a box cooker, lined on the inside with aluminum foil and using a piece of glass on top to trap the heat inside of the box. That appeared to be the easiest to build with the limited materials I had available, especially as I could see a large box on a pile of stuff on the other side of the room from where I was sitting at the computer. I excitedly went through the list of materials to see what else was needed. I soon found a big problem; I didn't have any aluminum foil. They didn't recommend using glass mirrors, which I knew I could get in Cotahuasi, and aluminum foil wasn't available. The mission of Solar Cookers International is to promote solar cooking in third world and developing nations, where many people are still dependent on wood fires. The plans had a section on substitute materials that could be used in areas that don't have access to all of the normally used items. Instead of aluminum foil, it said that aluminized polyester film (MylarŪ) could be used, although I didn't notice the warning until after I had built the cooker. It said not to use it on the inside of a box cooker because it could melt and give off fumes, but neither of those has been a problem.
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