There are various ways to cook when your electric stove isn’t working due to a powder outage or your normal way of cooking has gone offline for whatever reason. You probably know many of them especially if you camp out even sporadically. There are all sorts of camping and backpacking stoves with different kinds of fuel to use in all kinds of situations.
After you eat all your “heat & eat” food and need to actually do some cooking, how fast will your fuel stores be used up then? Boiling water and cooking rice requires 30 minutes or more of fuel. And beans take a lot longer!
And what happens when you run low on fuel or, horror of horrors, run out of fuel and you still cannot cook “normally”? What will you do then? Cooking over an open fire day after day requires a lot of fuel. And time spent gathering that fuel.
What about a situation where you do not want to advertize that you have food cooking? The smell of food might attract unwanted attention.
These were just a few questions I asked myself when I began thinking about being prepared in the event of a prolonged electrical outage. I wanted something that would help me conserve fuel while still allowing me to cook the foods I had stored.
The answer for me was a hay box or retained heat cooker. A hay box is not a new idea, nor is it impressive (you can make a simple temporary one out of stuff you already have at home), but it will help you conserve your fuel and cook the rice and beans you have stored. Once you get the water and food up to boiling, the only heat you are adding to your food is the heat lost to the atmosphere. What if there was a way to conserve the heat already in your food and keep it hot until the food is cooked? That’s just what a hay box does.
When I make rice now, I boil my water, add the rice, cook for 3 to 4 minutes, and pop the covered pot into my hay box for 25 to 30 minutes. Perfect rice every time! No worries about burning and no more watching the pot. In fact, I can make my rice up to 2 hours before I need it and it will come out of the hay box piping hot and ready to use. I need pot holders to remove the pot from the hay box; it’s that hot!
Many slow cooker recipes and soups can be easily adapted to cook in a hay box. The secret to fuel savings is cut the food small so that the heat reaches the center of the food in the shortest amount of time. I’ve made beef stew by chopping everything into ½ inch or smaller cubes, bringing to a boil, and boiling everything for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes of boiling, I placed the covered pot into my hay box. Five hours later we enjoyed super yummy beef stew that was still so hot we had to blow on the spoonfuls to cool it off!
Another benefit of cooking with the hay box method is that the smell of food cooking is minimal to nonexistent. Food doesn’t have enough “open” cooking time to send out the yummy food smells that alert others. You literally keep the food smells under wraps while you dinner cooks to perfection.
When the electricity is out, what do you do about leftovers? You can reheat the food to piping hot, and pop it back in the hay box for later. The hay box will keep your food hot enough so that it doesn’t grow nastiness and make you sick.
As with anything about being prepared, practice gives you the skills you will draw on under stress. I suggest you try this method of cooking a few times by building your own hay box out of a box or a basket and blankets/sleeping bags you already have. Cook some rice; try a soup or stew recipe. You’ll see what I am trying to tell you.
I leave you with some web sites to visit: