COOKING WITH OUR CAR DURING THE 2012 HEAT WAVE
2012 was the hottest Summer in my memory. Where I grew up in northern Michigan, it got above 80º F for maybe one week in July. Here in southern Wisconsin it’s warmer, but we normally have temperatures in the 90s only a few times a Summer. In the heat wave of 2012, it seemed to be in the 90s more often than it wasn’t, and I was miserable. It was like a reverse Winter. I was stuck inside because it was too hot outside instead of too cold. I didn’t even want to spend time in the garden.
We actually had to use the air conditioner most of the Summer, which we normally don't do. As long as it gets into the low 60s at night, we can open the windows so that the cool air coming inside keeps the house comfortable (as long as we also close the windows during the day to keep the hot air outside). In 2012 it seldom got below 70º at night and I remembered why I dislike A/C. It was so cold inside that there’s no way we could expect our bodies to adjust to the incredible heat when we went outside.
When I couldn't take it anymore, it occurred to me that if the 100º temperatures were here to stay, I might feel better if I could put the excess heat to use somehow. Some suggestion I heard or read made me think that it was hot enough to cook in our car. Maybe it was the repeated National Weather Service warnings about not leaving your kids or dogs alone in the car for even a few minutes because the heat would kill them.
Bear is always willing to help with weird cooking experiments, so one weekend we moved the car around in the driveway so that the rear window was pointing toward the sun. We put a tall tub on the back seat and rested a piece of wood across it and the rear dash to act as our cooking surface. It was in the low 90s outside and probably over 100º with the heat index. The oven thermometer we put in the car got to 175º. This is similar to the temperature of a crock pot on low, so Bear called this our “car pot.”
Here’s how our experiments turned out:
Beef Stew: This was the best stew I’ve ever made. We put the meat, potatoes, and onions in a black cast iron pot with a glass lid, and seasoned it with leftover broth from a Swiss Steak and some bouquet garni. The internal temperature got to 154º and after 8 hours in the car pot, the meat was nicely tender. The potatoes weren’t soft enough, though, so we did have to finish it on the stove.
Chocolate Chip Cookies: The oil separated from the dough a bit and left a little pool of grease around each cookie. They didn’t bake all the way through, but after 1½ hours they did hold together if you let them cool. It was better to eat them hot out of the car, though, when the chocolate chips were creamy. It was the best possible combination of gooey baked cookie and raw cookie dough.
Pizza, Bread, and Rice: Our other experiments were less successful because the car wasn't hot enough. We realized that we couldn’t keep the doors open very long without the interior temperature dropping quickly down to 150 degrees. We tried to increase the cooking temperature by using glass pots and lids and turning glass pans upside down over the food to create mini-greenhouse effects, but the food still didn't get done. We tried a homemade pizza, but it only partially cooked. A loaf of bread got crusty on the outside, but was doughy in the middle. We also tried a half cup of rice in a glass bowl. It got to an internal temperature of 156º, but was only partially cooked after 8 hours. Perhaps we should have tried to dehydrate some fruit or vegetables instead. 150-175 degrees is a good temperature for that, and I have heard of people who use their cars for dehydrating.
Maybe the next time we have a heat wave and a car we are not really worried about, we can do this again. I'll try to enclose the cooking area more by putting up boards covered with aluminum foil, shiny side out, that will reflect the heat. We'll be making our own solar oven. It's portable, but heavy. I bet I can get it up to 300 degrees so that we can fry eggs, although I'm not sure what this would do to the upholstery. When looking for our next car, maybe we should look for a beater car with the biggest window space for more cooking room. This would be really cool, but I don't want to jinx future Summers by hoping for heat waves.
This reminds me that making a portable solar oven has been on the to do list for a long time. It could save a lot of energy if we used it instead of the stove, and wouldn't heat up the kitchen in the Summer. There are lots of plans available on the internet. They are usually small black boxes with a glass lid and some sort of shiny surface around them that reflects the heat into the box, which holds the food.
We put a tub on the back seat and rested a piece of wood
on top of it to act as our cooking surface.
The oven thermometer got to 175 degrees F.
Attempting to bake chocolate chip cookies.
Clockwise from upper left:
1. Beef stew in the black cast iron pot that would absorb heat.
2. Rice in a glass bowl with glass lid.
3. Pizza on a pizza stone and under an inverted glass pie pan.
4. Bread in an aluminum pan with a glass bread pan inverted over it to increase and hold in the heat.
Our cooking experiment wasn’t
entirely successful, but it was fun,
and for a little while at least,
we wanted it to be hot outside.
It helped us adapt a little bit better
to the heat wave.