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Haybox Cooking / Thermal Cooker / Wonder Box

 
Posts: 9002
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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I've been doing a lot of my towel version of Hay box cooking in the Philippines. I have a big electric kettle that is used for drinks but also for making soup and boiling vegetables. I run the kettle until it clicks off and then wrap it with several old towels. Once in a while I hit the button and let it get up to boil in again.

Hay box of soap making. That's right, soap making. I set up a double boiler system so that the excess Heat created when lye is put into water can be transferred to the oil. This required finding just the right containers that Nest inside one another. After the oil pot is placed in the hot water, it is all covered with towels until a temperature equilibrium is reached. Then the lye is poured into the oil and soap is made. We made many batches of soap without using any heat Source other than that from the chemical reaction and the Sun. I sometimes set the jugs of oil in the Sun a few hours before making the soap.

I always use this method when cooking rice. I bring it up to temperature, then cover it and walk away with the stove turned off.
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There's a kettle in there
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Each batch of soap is wrapped in towels to preserve Heat
 
Posts: 40
Location: La Bretagne
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homeschooling solar rocket stoves
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Hello Mick and thank you for the reply and ideas. I think that cutting out one side for a door would probably work well. I already have the door that would then become the outer door, I just will have to figure out something so that the insulating inner door is tight, as the outer door in an old piece of carved wood that has been held together since we recovered it with a few pieces of metal. I like the idea of just cutting out the side. And having that cut out side become part of the future box.

That is cool that your Christmas tree star is still used!

Thanks again.
 
pollinator
Posts: 151
Location: Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Europe
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Thanks everybody for this great discussion. I have since taken to wrapping my pressure cooker in an old ski jacket placed in a wooden box once I've brought it up to pressure. Finishes cooking and keeps the food  warm for several hours. Great for pot lucks.
 
                                
Posts: 27
Location: in the country in southeastern US
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I first tried "haybox" cooking after reading about a variant of it in a pamphlet put out by researchers in Aprochevo, NM. (back in 1990s). They were giving out DIY directions to make a rocket stove from common materials (back when rocket stoves were new)and included a pamphlet of using wrap cooking to finish off foods started by boiling on a rocket stove.  I tried it and it works a treat, PLUS you do NOT have to buy anything to use the technique.  Just boil your food, wrap 3 inches thick with a quilt (polyester or wool recommended, because the insulation is closed cell and does not absorb water vapor and get moldy.  It helped to have a pot with no long handles (like what passes for a dutch oven nowdays) for easier wrapping, and a larger pot would cook more efficiently due to more greater heat retaining mass.  Using oven baking bags makes it possible to bake in it as well.  Yes, I have patterns for a wonder box, and there is an insulated bag called a "wonder bag" that is another variant sold ready made on Amazon (I just use my old poly quilt - wrapping a 2nd pot with a poly blanket if I need two pots cooked.  I'm cheeeep.)
 
Posts: 157
Location: Providence, RI, USA
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forest garden trees urban
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This is awesome! Looks like I should be using more insulation! Or maybe see if I can find someone to sew me one of these fabulous pillows!

I first heard of this kind of cooking from a friend who was using a thermos to cook beans. When I couldn't afford a large enough glass-lined thermos, I devised my own approach, which doesn't use as much insulation, but works pretty well with what we have on hand.

Here is my procedure for ordinary black "turtle" beans, but I have done something similar with white beans, pinto beans, etc. It can be modified for any dry bean variety, so long as you test for consistency along the way.

Note: it is very important NOT to add salt until the beans are cooked to the preferred consistency. Salt tends to keep beans firm and, thus, slows the cooking process.

  • Soak beans at least 12 hours.
  • Drain and let stand another 12-24 hours, rinsing from time to time to keep them fresh (this step is optional, but can help plump up any beans that were slow to soak).
  • Bring beans to boil in large pot.
  • Just after beans boil, turn off the burner, place 2 pot holders on top of the lid, then cover the entire thing with at least 2 thick dish towels.  to insulate.
  • The pot will cool over the next 3-5 hours. Anytime after 3 hours, rinse and boil again. You may have to repeat the boil 2-4 times, testing for softness between times.
  • Once the beans have reached their desired consistency, add salt to taste. I like mine salty.
  • Leave beans in brine overnight in fridge.


  • If you aren't a kitchen geek like me, this will sound like a lot of work, but it doesn't take much time if you are organized - ten minutes here and there while you're doing something else in the kitchen. If you think you'll forget, just set the timer.

    I will often make more than I need and store the remainder in sterile jars in the fridge. To do so, I add lots of salt at the end of the final boil, then pour the boiling beans directly into clean mason jars (with the salty water) - making sure to put a date on the lid. I don't keep them for more than a couple of weeks, though, since using unsafe canning practices with low-acid foods, even in the fridge, is playing with fire. And this method is unsafe, according to most authorities. If you want to store them safely, or if you don't want to refrigerate them, you should definitely use canning practices learned from a responsible adult - ie, not me! ;)
     
    Posts: 34
    Location: Utah
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    I've made 3 haybox cookers now. One big one for home that fits our large enameled cast iron casserole dish, one for our land in the desert, one for camping.

    I'm presently on a camping trip with my extended family for my dad's 80th birthday. I did beef stew in it the first; just browned the meat,  added raw vegetables and potatoes,  spices, salt, and water, brought it to a boil,  and put it in the cooker until everybody arrived hours later. It was still too hot to hold without gloves, everything was cooked, potatoes were soft. Minimum of gas used, and no worries about burning the bottom. Yesterday morning,  it kept the bacon hot, while I cooked the pancakes. Today I'll use it to parboil potatoes for this evening, when I'll slice and fry them. Love the box, and I think I got my brothers interested in making one.

    This one is an old box, I repurposed,  insulated with recycled foam insulation, and lined with ducting remnants.
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    Posts: 27
    Location: in the country in southeastern US
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    I have used (and still do) the ultra cheapo version of a haybox - bring food to boil(often soaked beans) in my dutch oven with a tight lid.  Boil 10 min.  Wrap in an old quilt (from resale shop years ago) with polyester filling (does not absorb water & get funky) 3 to 4 inches thick.  Set on the washing machine.  Come back and dinner time and spoon cooked beans over rice, or mashed potatoes, or even toast.  Sprinkle with cheese & chow down.

    I have even cooked soybeans (notoriously hard to cook soft) using this "wrap cooking" method.  It took two heat & wrap sessions to cook fully soft, but they cooked up the nicest I have ever been able to cook soybeans (fully dried, not edemame).  

    I love this technique and the quilt or blanket wrap means I can do multiple pots.  I read somewhere that this was used by travelers in wagon trains, who soaked beans overnight, booiled them 10 min in the morning when making breakfast, then wrapped then, boxed them, and packed them in the wagon.  when they made camp for the night, the beans were done, needing only some quick cornbread or biscuits to make a meal.  Then put more beans to soaking while they slept.  Now how efficient is that?
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 98
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    Oh such a timely reminder of the good old ways...

    I was thinking about other things and was wondering if anyone had problems with keeping the boxes hot enough / long enough for what they were doing.

    The simple solution for that is add more insulation.   That'll work to a point.  

    The hay boxes tend to work with 4+ quart pots, with the general plan of using that 4 quarts for food.   Sometimes, some people may _not_ want to have that much food cooked. (I know, crazy right? )

    A way to stretch the hay box cooker to smaller cooking tasks could be to add more mass to the original heating that isn't food.

    A simple / old school way would be nice clean washed, flat river rocks or something.

    Another might be to warm up some quart jars filled with boiling water and put them in the cooker next to a smaller pot ( a bigger box might be required for packing the jars in there).

    A suuuuuper interesting to me and something going on my todo list is to try doing that boiling water trick but with waxes.   Beeswax, soy wax and carnauba wax are on the list of things to try out.    The neat bit about waxes is that they work like ice cubes in reverse.  Ice cubes keep things cold by melting a little.   Melted waxes will keep things warmer by solidifying a little.   The different waxes solidify at different temperatures so they should give different temperature profiles as the box sits there.


     
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