I am not known for my predictions, but my guess is when it is all said and done, 2010 will go down as the hottest year on record to date. Here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, we are going on close to two weeks of 90 degree weather. Throw the humidity into the mix, and the heat index can hover close to one hundred degrees. Both the North East and East coast of America have had record setting summers with temps of one hundred degrees or more. You can also look at Russia and the Ukraine where they are seeing their wheat harvest decimated by on going three digit temperatures. I am no global warming or climate change skeptic, but the Earth is very old and she has her own cycles and shifts of normality. There is a part of me that wants to believe that these extreme weather patterns are normal and that everything is okay. However, the other more rational part of me looks at the evidence and the facts and sees all the awful atrocities committed against our only home and true provider, this good Earth. With over a few hundred-million tons of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year by smokestacks, car exhaust, and rapid deforestation, our human hands definitely play a part in climate change.
On an individual level, the lifestyle choices we choose to make to reduce carbon emissions have to be done because they are the right thing to do, not because they are going to change the world. For any real, positive, and lasting change regarding the environment, government and industry must be held accountable for all their actions; past, present and future. Until we the people pull off the sheets of the bed that government and industry are lying down together in, we can expect no real change. Knowing that we can’t stop global warming and climate change by ourselves, there is something that we can do to keep our own houses cooler in the heat of the summer, cooking food outside. This tradition goes back to the beginning of time when the first humans learned about cooking meat over an open fire all the way up to today where we cook our meat over a propane gas grill at an outdoor bar-be-que. Not only is this tradition fun, but it can also help to keep our houses a little cooler in these 90+ degree days.
The modern day example of a bar-be-que is but one of many of the ways to cook outside. Until very recently, when many more people than today grew a portion of their own food, harvest surpluses of all different vegetables and fruits were preserved with canning. Pickles, relishes, jellies, jams, and plain fruits and veggies were all processed using a hot water bath and sometimes a pressure cooker. Using prohibition as another example, though illegal, people still consumed beer and liquor, and a lot of the time they made it themselves, over a fire outside. This process of preserving food and making hooch, though not hard, takes some time, energy, and boiling water. Doing this in the summer heat can be overwhelming, hence the outdoor, summer kitchen. This idea of a summer kitchen could be as simple as a folding table for prep work, a propane burner for canning and beer brewing, and a charcoal grill for the meat and the veggies. Our family grills out over real lump charcoal at least once a week. Sometimes meat, sometimes veggies, and sometimes both. But with all this excessive heat, I decided to try and use the grill as an oven. In our large cast iron pan, I mixed potatoes, rutabaga, and onions (all from the farmers market), our home-made maple syrup, olive oil, butter, and salt and pepper and roasted them on the grill for about an hour at roughly 300 degrees. In the last twenty minutes I added another pan with butter and sautéed fresh okra from the garden dredged in cornmeal. It all turned out wonderful and helped to keep our house that much cooler.
Along with the charcoal grill and the propane burner, there are a few other ways of cooking outside. We will start with my favorite. My blogger friend El, who writes Fast Grow the Weeds, has built the most beautiful outdoor kitchen. It consists of the Loven (a wood-fired, brick oven) a rocket stove, and a fold up table. I aspire to something of this quality someday. Another nice example, not as pretty, but just as functional is Novella Carpenter’s cob oven. Same idea as the Loven, but different building materials. The rocket stove is an incredibly efficient way to cook and heat water without a lot of fuel. You can use anything from twigs, scraps of lumber, and broken pallets for fuel. For my own use, I hope to build a rocket stove that will take the place of the propane burner for boiling water for canning and beer brewing. The solar oven is another great way of cooking food outside using nothing but energy from the sun. I have never tried one myself, but I hope to eventually. One last example of cooking outside comes from The Simple Appropriate Technology website. This is a 55 gallon barrel that has been modified for roasting vegetables. I think this idea has a lot of potential also. It would require more fuel than the rocket stove, but you might be able to more effectively boil water, and in larger quantities.
As stated before, cooking outside is not going to change the world, far from it. But it will help to keep us a little cooler on these hot summer days. Ideas like the rocket stove, a converted barrel, and a solar oven are great ideas because of low amounts of fuel you need. In a world where all different types of fuel are getting more expensive and eventually harder to come by, these low-tech methods of cooking will become more popular. Outdoor masonry ovens and grills are great as long as you have a reliable source of high quality hard wood and charcoal. I hope this has been a fun post for you all to read, and I hope you can try cooking outside to help keep your house a little more comfortable and cool. Cheers!