| Boiling Point No. 32 - January 1994 |
by Vivienne Abbott, ITDG SHE Project, Kenya and Matthew Owen, Bellerive Foundation, Kenya.
Back from a training seminar on household energy conservation, a Home Science Extension Worker is being asked by a friend exactly what she has learned...
So did they teach you about this new way of cooking with lessfuel?
You mean hotbox cooking. Yes they did. It saves a lot of fuel and costs hardly anything.
How does it work?
You just put the pot of hot food into a box that's insulated and keeps in the heat for hours.
It cooks like that?
You have to boil it first. Just heat the food until it boils, simmer it for a while, and then put it into the fireless cooker. The insulation keeps the pot, food, and water hot for a long time and the food carries on cooking. You just have to make sure you use the right amount of water.
It must take a long time to cook like that!
Some foods, like rice, take only 20 minutes longer than usual. Maize and beans, and other dry foods cook slowly and may take several hours but this saves even more fuel, and you can leave them in the hot box without supervision - not like a fire so it leaves you more time for other things.
What else can you cook with it?
So many things, and you can even overcook some things if you're not careful! Rice and potatoes go soft if leR for too long. Other food, like chapattis and tea, won't spoil, so the 'fireless cooker' is ideal for keeping them warm for a long time.
This hotbox sounds great; can it do anything else?
Well, it doesn't burn food, and the food seems to taste nicer. The trainer said that the food from a hotbox was actually more nutritious. It makes no smoke, it's nice and clean, cannot burn the children, or set the house on fire.
It sounds marvellous, and so simple to use. Where can you get one?
You can make one yourself; it's not hard at all. You just need a container and some insulating material. We made lots of different types and they all worked well. For containers, we tried baskets, cardboard boxes, wooden crates, and even a hole in the ground. We used newspapers, wood shavings, sisal fibres and hay for insulation. We made a nest for the pot in the insulation, and lined the nest with cloth, plastic or paper to keep its shape.
Doesn't the heat come out of the top?
We made soft lids like cushions. Because these were insulated as well, the heat didn't escape. A good insulated lid seems to be very important.
I imagine you have to be pretty well organized to use one of these cookers, as the food has to be put in well before it is needed.
Well, that's true, it does need some advance planning for meals that take a long time to cook. But I think I'll be able to put food in at breakfast time and then eat it when I get home at night.
So are you going to start using one ?
Yes, I think we all will. It seems that in other places where the hotbox has been introduced, people have started using it quickly. My daughter first told me about the cookers. They were taught something called 'Cooking to Conserve' in primary school, and there was one lesson on these 'tireless' cookers. We were told, during the course, that they are now used in Nairobi as well as in rural areas of Kenya and Uganda.
So how long would it take to cook different foods in this cooker?
Well, here's a list they gave us of some of the recipes which work, but I know there are a lot more you can find out about if you write to the Bellerive Foundation yourself.
For more information about the 'Fireless Cooker', contact the Bellerive Foundation, PO Box 30029, Nairobi, Kenya.