Report on My New Haybox Cooker

What's a 'haybox cooker'? See for a good explanation.

I didn't want to ask my husband to build a wooden box for me although I would enjoy having a very pretty, decorative wooden box. But, while my husband does sturdy, he definitely doesn't do pretty! (He'd be the first to tell you this.)

I wanted something more permanent than cardboard and less subject to being scratched to pieces by our cat who finds cardboard boxes irresistible.

My friend Jan has a stainless steel 'fireless cooker'. It works very well, and is nice looking. This would be especially nice to take hot food to a church supper or the like. It's here: =1&zmac=18&zmap=CC4500P2

Jan reports that the stainless steel inner pan is nearly a gallon in size, and that it cooks soups and stews very well, but it is not suitable for cooking dried beans. But it's expensive - $99. And I often cook large amounts of soups or stews, then freeze quite a few dinners' worth for later no-cook nights. One gallon isn't large enough to cook for the freezer in quantity.

Then I thought of an Igloo (or Igloo type) cooler; the hard-shell coolers. These have obvious advantages in that they are already well-insulated and meant to retain heat or cold. However, all of the coolers that I could find, both locally and online, were narrow rectangles in shape. I don't have any pots that are narrow rectangles. Finally, we came across an Igloo 'Cube' cooler in a local drugstore; it's this one:


It cost us $29.99. I have several pots that fit into it, including one of my pressure cookers and a very large soup pot (not at the same time, although I do have two smaller pots that will fit in it together).

I do not think it would be a good idea to put a hot pot directly on the bottom of the cooler. My husband cut a piece of scrap wood that fits on the bottom, and I put two layers of aluminum foil on top of the scrap wood. A couple of pieces of cardboard, again covered with aluminum foil, could be used instead of the wood.

Then I scotch-taped aluminum foil to the sides of the cooler. I had meant to use heavy-duty aluminum foil but couldn't find any (at home; I didn't go to the store), so I just used regular foil. (And then I found the heavy-duty foil later on, of course. But the regular foil seems to work fine for this purpose.)

None of our quilts would fit in the cooler after putting a pot in it. I don't want to cut up any of our quilts, so I nestled an afghan into the cooler. An afghan is fairly loosely knit (at least this one is), so it's not the ideal insulation or air-space filler. I'll go to the GoodWill Store soon and buy an old quilt that I can cut up to use in the haybox. Or maybe I'll buy a really cheap pillow at the Dollar Store and cut that up.

I decided to start out with long-grain brown rice. (I will experiment with using my pressure cooker in the haybox later; but I wanted this first experiment to be accessible to as many people as possible and lots of people don't have pressure cookers.) I put 3-3/4 cups of water in a heavy pot, and put it on the stove. I brought the water to a boil, then stirred in 1-1/2 cups of long-grain brown rice. (The proportion of water to rice is two to one.) I again brought it to a boil, put the lid on the pot, and put the pot in the haybox cooker/cooler, tucking the afghan in around the pot. Then I closed the cooler.

Four hours later, I opened the cooler, removed the pot, took a look at the rice and tasted it. It was not quite cooked enough so I again brought it to a boil (which only took about two minutes, as it was still quite hot), covered the pot and returned it to the haybox. One hour later I again took it out and the brown rice was perfectly cooked.

Brown rice generally takes about 45 minutes in a pan on the stovetop: so I saved at least 40 minutes of natural gas (stovetop) or about 60 minutes of electricity if I had used my electric vegetable steamer/rice cooker to cook the rice.

I'll be able to cook lots of soups, stews, chili and other such dishes in it when the weather is cold again (we don't want them now that it is summer). I believe I can use it to cook dried beans (soaked overnight first), although I may have to re-boil them in the middle of the cooking time. I am sure that I can cook anything that cooks in a crockpot in the haybox cooker. Obviously, it can also be used for some things that I don't use a crockpot to cook, such as the brown rice.

Two pots of mine will fit in it, one stacked on top of the other. I would need to turn the cover upside down on the lower pot. But that should be OK. I will also experiment with incubating yogurt in it: we make two quarts of yogurt at least once per week, sometimes more often.

UPDATE: It works beautifully for incubating yogurt. The yogurt is ready in four hours, just as it would be if I had used the electric yogurt maker. But the haybox cooker doesn't use any electricity. I will do it this way from now on. Complete directions are here:

I like this very much because it's so accessible to so many people. You don't need any skill to make it; you just buy it. You don't need carpentry tools. The cost is not exorbitant and will fairly quickly be recouped in saved energy costs. The concept is a cinch to master and it's easy to cook in it - no burning the food, no watching a pot on a hot stove. It doesn't heat your house or apartment - a very good thing in summer, not so good in winter. You don't need sunshine to use it, although use of a haybox cooker would probably combine well with use of a solar oven. You can live in an apartment and use the haybox cooker. If you have an elderly parent (or parents) who live nearby, you could prepare a soup or stew, take it to their place, pop it into the haybox cooker, and leave it with them so that they can have a good hot dinner.

The cubic-shaped coolers also come on wheels:

If I had seen one on wheels, I would probably have bought it instead, although carrying the cooler isn't a problem for us. But I believe the wheeled version would be better for a frail or elderly person.

And of course, there's nothing to prevent use of the Igloo cooler as a .... (surprise!) picnic cooler. You could also use it in your car to bring frozen food home from the store if the store is a long distance and the weather is hot.

One tiny step for independence, one smidgen less pollution emitted from our household, one tiny bit less greenhouse gas caused by our household, one step away from corporate control, one little bit less fossil fuel used by our household .... all to the good. Most of us can only take small steps. But small steps taken by many people add up to something significant.

4 June 2007

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