Thursday, May 26, 2011

Retained Heat Cooker - Hay Box - Thermal Cooker Class Lesson From May 26 2011

This is the class I taught on Thursday May 26, for anyone who missed it. Also I promised those in attendance I would put it up, so they would have all the information that was included in the lesson.

President Ezra Taft Benson said, "The revelation to produce and store food may be as essential to our temporal welfare as boarding the ark was to the people in the days of Noah".

We are here tonight to learn about Fireless Cooking or by it’s other names;  Retained Heat Cooking, Hay Box Cooking, or even Thermal Cooking, it is all the same thing.

You do retained heat cooking every time you make hard boiled eggs. 

The main purpose of cooking by this method is to conserve fuel, but it also has many other advantages. The Food can be left to cook unattended, no electricity is required, and the food can’t burn. 

The fireless cooker has a long history and has taken many different forms. In Eastern Europe, it has been used for centruies in the form of a chest similar to a cedar chest. The chest

was filled with fresh hay and a clean cloth was spread over the hay. The pot was pushed down into the hay to form an indentation, or a nest to hold the pot.

During both World Wars the fireless cooker was used to supplement rationed or unavailable fuel sources. In england during World War II, it was known as the “Victory Oven”. In America the fireless cooker was used by the pioneers in the treeless prairie states. Willa Cather mentions fireless cookers in her novel, “My Antonia” about Eastern European immigrants to Nebraska. 

Many older American cookbooks have chapters on fireless cooking. “The Settlement Cookbook”, which was published by the aide workers of the Settlement Houses who worked with new immigrants, had a chapter on “fireless cookers”. Currently aide workers in Asia and Africa are encouraging the use of the “Wonder Box”, which is the name of the Retained Heat Cooker we will be making, The Wonder Box saves fuel in deforested areas. 

In 1867 at the Paris Exhibition a “Norwegian Cook Box” was exhibited. It was lined with felt and had tin cooking utensils. The food in the tin pots was placed boiling hot in the box and then kept for some time. The heat in the food is retained by the felt lining and thoroughly cooks the food. 

A similar method of cooking was used by the peasants in Germany. They placed kettles of boiling soup in feather beds to cook over night.

The box cannot be used for Steaks, pancakes, and other foods you want to be crisp like cookies, or breads with a nice crust. It can be used to “bake” breads but they will not have a lovely brown crust, rather it is steamed more like a Boston Brown Bread.

The United States War Department used the boxes for Army experiments in 1905, and found them to be extremely useful. It was demonstrated that food cooked in a retained heat cooker or hay box had excellent results, saved on labor and fuel, and that the food could be served hot at the end of a long march. They put the food into the retained heat cooker while they were preparing breakfast for the camp at 7am, and at 5pm they opened it and had a hot meal.

The use of a retained heat cooker eliminates the need of securing large quantities of wood, electricity, propane, butane, or charcoal for cooking. 

What if there wasn’t any electricity or gas being delivered to our homes?

What if there was an economic downturn and we were without most everything we take for granted on a daily basis?

What if you were in camp? How will you cook your food, without relying on large quantities of fuel you do not possess?

In the book, “Meals That Cook Themselves”, Christine Frederick tells at the turn of the century, that laundry was a one day a week job, making beds, dusting, sweeping, and cleaning was just a once a day job, but food preparation and cooking and the eternal three meals a day was on the other hand 70% of every day. She talks about all the time spent pot watching, basting, and making sure the foods didn’t burn, boil over, or get too dry. She didn’t have a microwave, and neither will you when you are without electricity.

Retained Heat Cookers will be of great assistance to you while living in camp. If you have more than one cooker you can be cooking multiple items of a meal or cooking dinner, while your lunch is in it’s final states of cooking. Cooking takes time, time you could be using at some other task in camp or at home. Perhaps even sleeping while your breakfast cooks.

I found it humorous that even in 1905 she speaks of her friends who have a “delicatessen habit”, in other words...they feed their families fast food because of the ease. If you are in camp you won’t find a McDonald’s close by.  

She also  believed that feeding her family wholesome home cooked foods was the proper way for her family to eat healthy. 

In the heat of the summer you not only save fuel, but you also save yourself from being cooked by the heat. No one wants to stand over the stove, be it a rocket stove or a kitchen stove, or any other kind of fire and cook. The retained heat cooker saves you from either heating up your kitchen or heating up yourself, as well as saving on precious fuel. Just because you have the resources now, doesn’t mean you will have them in the near future.

How many times in the past dispensations have the saints been called upon to live in less than stellar conditions to be safe? You may also have to live in less than stellar conditions to also be safe.

We are talking of saving fuel, but if you have stored only a minimum of water for say two weeks, may I ask how do you expect to cook, let alone drink, bathe, and wash your utensils? You may want to rethink your water supply as cooking does demand water. When you have stored dehydrated, freeze dried foods, and grains you will need water and fuel to prepare your meals.

As you can see it is an age-old method that can be used to conserve energy not only during times of crisis, but anytime. Depending on the food item and amount cooked, the use of a hay box or insulated cooker saves between 20% and 80% of the energy normally needed to cook a food. The longer an item usually takes on a stove top, the more fuel is saved. For example, with a hay box, five pots of long-cooking dry beans will use the same amount of fuel to cook to completion as just one pot cooked without a retained heat cooker.

The principle of retained-heat cooking is simple. In conventional cooking, any heat applied to the pot after it reaches boiling temperature is merely replacing heat lost to the air by the pot. In hay box cooking, food is brought to a boil, simmered for a few minutes depending on the particle size (5 minutes for rice or other grains, 15 minutes for large dry beans or whole potatoes), then put into the hay box to continue cooking. Since the insulated cooker prevents most of the heat in the food from escaping into the environment, no additional energy is needed to complete the cooking process. The hay boxed food normally cooks within one to two times the normal stove top cooking time. It can be left in the hay box until ready to serve, and stays hot for hours. 

"Timing" is much less important than in stove top cooking: stick a pot of rice, beans, or stew in at lunch time, and it will be ready when you are, and steaming hot, at dinner time. 
The hay box itself is any kind of insulated container that can withstand cooking temperatures and fits relatively snugly around the pot. Hay boxes have been made using hay, straw, wool, feathers, cotton, rice hulls, cardboard, aluminum foil, newspaper, fiberglass, fur, rigid foam, and/or other suitable materials as insulation. In a Hay Box the  insulation is placed between the rigid walls of a box, within a double bag of material, or lining a hole in the ground. "Instant hay boxes" have been created by wrapping a sleeping bag, blankets, and/or pillows around a pot. 

The most effective insulating materials create many separate pockets of air, which slow down the movement of heat. 2 to 4 inches of thickness (depending on the material) are necessary for good insulation.

Some materials, such as aluminum foil or Mylar, actually reflect heat back toward the pot. 

Important characteristics of any insulating material incorporated into a hay box include: 

It must withstand cooking temperatures (up to 212 degrees F or 100 degrees C) without melting. 

It does not release toxic fumes (if you are using a spray on foam insulation it needs to be covered with aluminum foil or mylar) or dangerous fibers (fiberglass also needs to be covered). 

It can be fashioned to be as snug-fitting as possible around the pot.

A little pot in a big box will not cook as effectively; it's better to wrap pillows, towels, or blankets around it to fill up the space. 

It can be made to form a relatively tight seal, so that heat does not escape from the cooking cavity.

Since hot air rises, a container designed to open at the base rather than the top will retain more heat. 

It should be made of dry materials, and that can be kept dry, since wet materials don't insulate as well. 

An inner layer of aluminum foil or mylar helps keep cooking moisture from entering the walls of the box. Mylar, tends to be a more durable inner layer than aluminum foil. 

Cooking containers, too, should have tight-fitting lids, to prevent the escape of heat and moisture.

Since water is not lost in hay box cooking the way it is during extended stove top simmering, the amount of water used to cook grains and beans is normally reduced by one-quarter. Instead of adding 2 cups of water per cup of dry rice, try adding 1 ½ cups. Each type of rice uses more or less water. The last bag I purchased at Macey's never cooked up right. It was still crunchy after cooking. I even increased the cooking time, but still... it never turned out fluffy and soft. It wasn't because the rice was old, because I've used rice that was over 40 years old, and it cooked up better and tasted better than the last bag I bought at Macey's

Also, the larger the amount cooked, the more effective hay box cooking is, since a full pot has more mass and therefore more heat storage capacity than a half-full pot. Hay box cooking is ideally suited for a family or large group, or anytime there's a reason to cook in quantity. If you're cooking alone, try cooking full pots of food using a hay box, then reheating small portions for individual meals--this too can conserve fuel.

Retained-heat cooking has many other advantages in addition to energy and water conservation. As mentioned, it makes "timing" less critical, since it keeps meals hot until serving time. Once the initial boil-and-short-simmer stage is past, it also eliminates the danger of burning the food on the bottom of the pot (the sad fate of too many pots of grains, beans, or other foods left simmering too long without stirring on the stove). 

Hay boxed food can actually be better for you, and tastier, than food prepared exclusively on a stove top, because most of the cooking takes place in the 180 degrees F to 212 degrees F range, rather than at a constant 212 degrees F (lower temperatures preserve more flavor and nutrients, as they also do in crock pot cooking and solar cooking). 

If you want to prepare multiple items for a meal but have only a limited number of flame sources, hay boxes can also greatly facilitate the logistics of food preparation. For example, you can bring your beans to a boil, simmer them 15 minutes, put them in a hay box; then bring your rice to a boil, simmer it 5 minutes, put it in another hay box; then prepare your vegetable stir-fry or soup, etc. At the end, you'll have a uniformly hot, unburnt, multi-dish meal, all off a single flame, probably consuming less total fuel than you would have used simply to cook the longest-cooking item alone without a hay box. You'll also have used one-quarter less of your drinkable water supply in preparing the food. 

Pre-soaking and draining beans always makes them easier to cook, as well as to digest. 

A few particularly long-cooking foods, such as garbanzo beans, may need re-boiling part-way through the cooking process. 

For health reasons, meat dishes should always be re-boiled before serving. 

Hay boxes are second only to solar cookers (which, however, are dependent on sunshine) in their potential to conserve resources.

A hay box let you bring hot or cold food anywhere and keeps it at a safe temperature for hours. You only need to spend a few minutes in the morning putting a meal together and it will sit in your campsite, or home and cook itself while you are busy doing other things. 

You do not need to change your cooking habits - you can use your favorite crock pot, casserole or slow cooker recipes. Just remember to experiment with your recipes because you sometimes will still use less water.

The slow and gentle cooking ensures that meat stays super moist and tender while vegetables retain their shape, texture and color. The food cooks in its own juices so you are not throwing away all the goodness - all the vitamins, nutrients and the flavors stay in your meal. The food inside can never be over-cooked so you will avoid scorching, evaporation, over boiling or bitterness. You will save on energy as the meal is on the stove for such a short period of time. You will save on washing up as there won't be an excess of saucepans, frying pans and serving dishes to clean up. 

The cooker should be left to hang outside or left on a table top to air out any food smells between uses. It is a good idea to wash it periodically. How will you do that when you are trying to conserve water? One way would be when there is a rainstorm is to sit it out and let the rain clean it, and then hang it to dry on your clothes line.

Food to be cooked should be at least two quarts to make possible the retention of heat, otherwise a vessel of boiling water should be put in the cooker at the same time to form the necessary amount of heat. When you place the pot of boiling water in the cooker next to the item you are cooking that doesn’t have much water you are in essence steaming the food.

Heavy pots like a Dutch oven work the best because a heavy pot retains more heat. Old pressure cookers are a great pot to use because they have a tight fitting lid and they are heavy. Pots with a small handle on each side, rather than one long handle are easiest to use in the cooker, but difficult to find. There needs to be room at the top of the pot to hold the steam, so do not over-fill the pot either.
If you accidently open the pot when placing it in the cooker, like I did the other day; then you have to put it back on your heat source with the lid on, bring it back up to boiling for 15 minutes to build up the steam inside. 

Almost any container and insulation can be used to make a fireless cooker, the only absolute is that there must be 3-4 inches of insulation above, below, and all around the pot of food. Remember the table top or rock that you put the cooker on is part of the insulation. If you put it on the ground, you have a heat sink, and you loose heat. That is why it is best to have 4 inches of insulation between the ground, or other cold surface. 

I prefer to put my cooker in a large cardboard box to give it more insulation, and I still cover the box with towels or blankets. You can wrap old bath towels around the cooker to give more insulation. Remember the more insulation the hotter it stays for a longer length of time. 

I found that a foil survival blanket that can be purchased at Macey’s or Emergency Essentials for just over $1 does a fantastic job of holding in the heat. Line the box or wrap the retained heat cooker with the Emergency blanket, and cover with more towels if you want, but the blanket will reflect the heat right back into the cooker.

Of course if you want to be a traditionalist you can always use fresh hat and have an authentic hay box. 

Also, remember that pasta and some vegetables that require a short cooking time are better when cooked the conventional way.

Let’s talk about food safety ... Pathogens can grow in food that has dropped below 140 degrees F. I’ve never had any problems with food that has been in the fireless cooker for 5 hours or so. It is usually still steaming when I take it out. But to be on the safe side, I always insert a meat themometer in the food, and take the temperature. I want to make sure it is hot.  If it seems to have cooled off, I bring it back to a simmer on top of the stove for at least 5 minutes before tasting it. Any food left in the cooker for longer than 18 hours, should be thrown out to be on the safe side.

When cooking meat or poultry that has been frozen, you need to be sure that it is completely defrosted before cooking it. For example, a pot roast that is still frozen in the center isn’t going to defrost in the 30 minutes of simmering before putting it in the fireless cooker. It would be gradually defrosting in the cooker itself and possibly releasing bacteria from the raw meat. It is always best to check the food about 15 minutes before you intend to serve it. That gives you time to correct seasonings or bring the food to a simmer if it has cooled. 

A retained heat cooker is an excellent addition to your preparedness items. As with anything else in your arsenal you need to practice with it. It is simple to use, but we should always practice so we know what we are doing in a stressful situation, as well as it gives you time to perfect the recipes your family enjoys. Just continue on with what you already know and experiment from there. 

I like knowing I can experiment now, and if I have something that didn’t work well, I can still use my stove and oven to make something a little more appealing. I did a lot of experimenting with different recipes this week, and believe me, I was happy to be able to throw some of it out. Just because someone says that their rice pudding recipe works perfectly in the cooker doesn’t mean they actually used their own recipe. I knew it had way to much liquid,  but I followed the instructions and was rewarded with a milky mess to feed my dog. I even put it back on the stove, and just tried to cook it like regular rice. Nope ... it still didn't work. But, the dog loved it.

And remember, redundancy, redundancy, redundancy. One is none, two is one, and three is better than one. 

A Retained Heat Cooker makes a great gift for you and  your family. What a great gift to give to grown children, brothers, sisters, parents, and so forth. Even a wedding or anniversary gift.

President Ezra Taft Benson said, "Should the Lord decide at this time to cleanse the Church - and the need for that cleansing seems to be increasing - a famine in this land of one year's duration could wipe out a large percentage of slothful members, including some ward and stake officers. Yet ye cannot say we have not been warned."

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