Or at least it used to, for many years when I lived in Ahmedabad, where the sun blazed for 10 months of the year.
It was especially useful for boiling potatoes, dals, chana and rajma. Also for making nice kheer—the milk would thicken and thicken and turn a lovely creamy pink. And never ever burn and stick. Also some halwas like carrot halwa, doodhi halwa etc. For sure, food cooked in the solar cooker tasted amazing!
The ‘buts’ were and are:
- The cooker needs to be rotated once in a while to get the maximum sun. Difficult to do that when one is away at work all day.
- Unexpected weather changes lead to disasters: Just the day when you have guests, You may come home to find that the chana is not cooked!
- And if left too long, the food may dry out. So if you are going to be away for nine hours, don’t leave rice in the cooker.
- Then the cooker has to be cleaned, closed and put away somewhere out of the dew each evening. And it was pretty large and clunky.
- There can be no shade around the cooker, which means you need a large clear space, and is a bit of a problem when trees grew tall and branch out.
- Service may be a problem. At one stage the metallic rod which kept up the mirror broke, and I could not find anyone to fix it. I tried propping it up with this and that, but not always with success.
- Dogs may come and sniff at it.
Even with my enthusiasm, my use tapered off.
Now I live in Bangalore. It has many more no-sun days. But when I see how much cooking gas we use, I am tempted to again buy a solar cooker. I surfed and surfed. Many fewer suppliers than 25 years ago. And sadly, the design hasn’t changed one bit. It is still the same metal dabba, with four black-lidded dabbas to put the food in.
I think I still will buy one. Even if I can use only it for 100 days out of 365. Even if it means a bit of uncertainty and inconvenience. But that does make me wonder—in our country where there is so much sun, why are our bright-brains not working to develop innovative cookers at reasonable prices? Maybe something that rotates with the sun. Maybe something with a back-up for low-light days. Maybe something which would ‘turn off’ after a set amount of time (or light). Maybe something with a ‘cook’ mode and a ‘keep warm’ mode. Maybe sleeker designs. Maybe service centres.
I don’t know…But I think with good design and a little more convenience, many more people would use these.
And that, I think is the tragedy of Indian science and technology. We don’t seem to set out to solve our own problems with our own resources. Who should be more interested in developing solar cookers than a country which has abundant sunlight, and for whom fossil fuel use is a concern? And which boasts some of the brightest tech brains!
Well no one. So let me see how to go about buying a twin of the solar cooker I bought a quarter century ago.