News Column

Solar Cook-off Comes to Growers Market

July 12, 2013

Andi Murphy

During a one-of-a-kind celebration, solar-cooking enthusiasts will gather at the Mountain View Market Co-Op to harness the sun's rays to bake something delicious for the fifth annual Southwest Solar Cook-Off on Sunday.

"You can pretty much cook anything in a solar oven," said Mo Valko, marketing coordinator for the Mountain View Market Co-Op. "One of the things that we're always trying to promote is more sustainable ways of living and alternative ways of doing things."

Cooking in a solar oven requires no electricity or gas -- only sunshine. Half of the ovens will be homemade from cardboard boxes and the other half will be store-bought.

For the contest these ovens will be turning out enchiladas, cookies, pot roasts, vegetarian meals and breads for judges to critique around 1 p.m. What's left -- and there should be plenty -- will be served to attendees to enjoy.

Since its beginning, categories have been added to the contest including enchiladas, pies, desserts and breads. Basically anyone who would like to take part in the contest can show up at 10 a.m. and bring whatever they want. The rules state that nothing is precooked and everything is made on site.

"We're hoping to have even more people participating in the contest this year," Valko said. "It's really a fun community event. It's in conjunction with the regular Sunday Growers Market."

There will be locally grown foods available for purchase, local vendors selling their wares, booths with information from local businesses and nonprofit groups and DJs providing a soundtrack.

Natural power

Valko uses her sun oven on a regular basis. While she's at work, the oven cooks beans or soup, just like a slow cooker does. And by the time she comes back home, dinner is ready -- and the process is free.

She also uses it during hiking. They're really good cooking tools in areas where fires or grills are not allowed, she said.

The cook-off is also a tool to educate the public about the possibilities of solar energy, said Jon Simmons, a four-time Cook-Off contestant.

Solar thermal technology is the easiest way to use the sun's power. There is so much of it, especially in this area, that it gives enough energy, within a small space, to cook food in a simple cardboard box.

"I've been interested in self-reliance and sustainability all my life," he said. "It was natural, here, living in the Southwest, to find a way to use our free solar power."

And in the land of sunshine and heat, it's natural to have a solar cook-off.

"It's a fun family-friendly event and it's fun to taste test all the food," Simmons said. "This is a legendary event. People all over who are interested in solar cooking are going to be checking this out."

Fancy foods

It's not just cookies and pizza anymore. One year there was roast goat and leg of lamb. He won first place in the vegetarian category with a curried vegetable in a cashew cream sauce dish in 2011, Simmons said.

"The cooking is getting more elaborate," Simmons said. "People are putting in more effort to make some fancier foods."

This year, he's pulling out the stops and bringing a special invention.

"My team has a surprise this year," he said. "We're pretty sure it's never been done in the world -- ever."

There are several types of sun ovens and cookers that will be at the cook-off. Some can make espresso, some can get as hot as 600 degrees, while others are capable of grilling and dehydrating foods.

"It's fun to see what people make themselves," Simmons said.

Andi Murphy may be reached at 575-541-5453.


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Source: Copyright Las Cruces Sun-News (NM) 2013

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