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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Saving the world one bread at a time!

The way I see things the western world is about to get bitch slapped by reality as an economic and possible fiscal crisis could destroy our banks, money and financial infrastructure. On top of this issue we have global warming, peak oil, and the specter of expanding famine zones spreading around the world all ready to bend us over the bottom bunk like in some sick prison movie.

Now there are things we can do to meet these issues and I do what I can for the environment by trying to curb my consumption of energy, stick to the 100 mile diet when we can, trying and failing in my pitiful attempt to grow a reasonable amount of food from my tiny yard, as well as my activism, blogging and GPC involvement. I am unconvinced however that we will reach a solution that will allow most or any of us to maintain the lifestyle or level of civilization we have grown accustom to in the long term and I’m trapped somewhere in-between going Amish or survivalist. I like basic black clothes and the idea of a simple agrarian life but wool jackets, full beards and a lack of beer just don’t do it for me. On the other side gun toting fundamentalist Christians with no necks and brush cuts scare the fucking shit out of me, mmmm choices?

In the mean time I am trying to learn basic skills that might prove useful in a post carbon future. Gardening has been a bust this year do to a combination of bad weather, very limited space and a herd of slugs and snails that decimated the beans, potatoes and cabbage. Over the years we’ve done some preserves and canning but we are certainly not experts. We expect to be drying whacks of tomatoes, some herbs and if we are lucky we might even get some homemade raisins. I don’t see a lot of reason to learn the proper techniques to freeze things when our power grid could collapse in a couple years when oil/gas prices drives people to space heaters.

As a frugal college student who could not always find what he wanted to wear at the vintage stores like Courage My Love in Kensington Market, or the occasional find at such stores as the South Pacific on Maitland I even taught myself to make shirts. Of course I would need a treadle machine in a post carbon future but did you know you can still buy one?

Apparently a manufacturer did a couple of short runs of an existing electric machine modified to mount to vintage treadles, finding a working treadle does not seem to be much of challenge you can find them on ebay or Kijiji daily.

One place where I have made progress in self sufficiency is in the kitchen where I’ve made great progress in the last year progressing from the occasional misshapen loaves of homemade bread to nice ones like this that the family actually wants me to make. Now rationalizing making my own bread had to include time, taste, cost and assumptions that I can do it using less carbon than a commercial bakery. The time is simple, I do it early weekend mornings while listening to financial web casts. Hell I’m up anyway because the kids don’t sleep and it’s too early to cut grass or go to the farmers market.
It is nice tasting bread and as long as we avoid the real discount breads it’s not only cheaper but I know the ingredients. The only real issue I can’t verify is how much energy my bread, cooked 2 loafs at a time consumes compared to a commercial bakery, per loaf it’s probably more at least until transportation is added. I also cannot know for sure that in a post carbon situation I will have access to the natural gas I will need to cook. So what to do?

Well after a surge in hits and advertising revenue on my financial blog I finally got windfall in the form of my first cheque from Google Adsense and after getting through the spring without going on strike I decided to blow my meager new earnings (plus some extra $) on a SUN OVEN

Now I was somewhat skeptical it would work as well as stated but I was willing to give it a shot as an emergency or camping oven. My first experiment fared poorly because I did not realize the full extent of my yards afternoon shading, the oven works great if I want to cook from 6:00 to 8:00 rather when the family wants to eat. My second attempt, tried and documented at the cottage and was a success, the only exception was I did not know how big a loaf I could put in the pot and it ended up a little on the small side.

The lump of dough in a new but old fashioned granite pot (speckled black enamel on steel) This was a simple white bread recipe I could do off the top of my head without a recipe book.

The Sun Oven in all it’s reflective glory, you point the oven at the sun and adjust occasionally in an attempt to keep the sun focused inward. The simple method is try to keep the shadows even on all sides, I found myself adjusting it every 15 minutes or so. You need sun glasses or you’ll go blind near this thing.

A close-up of the thermostat proving you can get the oven up to a useful working temperature. Eventually about mid cook I did touch 400 degrees.

Dough in the oven and starting to steam up

1 hour or so in, turning golden and surface cracking

The finished product waiting to be served with BBQ and fresh corn.

Now I fully understand that weather conditions, shade, heat up time etc do not make this practical for every person but for the dedicated homesteader or environmentalist, the cottager in area where the power is suspect, the Amish or the survivalist, this is a low tech, zero emissions way to cook bread, stews, soups, casseroles etc. Frequent users claim that burning is not much of an issue and if you walk away from it pointed at where the sun will be later you can come back to a fully cooked mean hours later, and even if you are late the less direct unfocused sun and insulated box will keep your dish warm for quite some time. After trying this I went looking for and found a do it yourself plan that puts the oven on a solar powered turntable that tracks the sun, neat!

While I would recommend the Sun Oven as a quite a useful contraption, for non portable use or a large family I might suggest people attempt to build a larger one that has bigger reflectors, a more stable tilting mechanism (the worst flaw of the Sun Oven) and perhaps the turntable I mentioned. I would also consider any charity project delivering Sun Ovens or some other variant of a solar oven to be a good, long term solution to fuel costs, carbon emissions and deforestation in the 3rd world.

I now know I can make cheaper, better bread with a lower carbon footprint than a commercial bakery. Now I must find a source of locally grown, organic hard wheat and a quality hand mill.Recommend this Post