Pioneer cooking for energy efficiency


In an effort to be more energy efficient, save money on bills and be more organised with food practices, for the last few years I have gotten into viewing a warm oven like a pioneer woman would. What do I mean by that? Well, as anyone who has read ‘Little House On The Prairie’ will know, pre-electricity, getting an oven hot took a lot of human and resource energy, so people would do all sorts of things with the oven while it was hot, and even cooling – making the most of it.

Of course these days I can have a hot oven at the flick of a dial, but I try to respect the energy it took to heat the oven, and save money on my gas bill by using the heat for multiple things and trying to avoid heating it just for one purpose.

This takes a little bit of organisation, lateral thinking and time, but once you get into the swing of it, it becomes second nature.

Once the oven is turned off – it stays hot for a long time! Think up ways to use the warm but cooling oven. I have a few suggestions below but would like more…

Here are some of the ways I maximise a hot oven – if you have other suggestions, please let me know in the comments!

-when baking, if I’m baking a cake, or biscuits or muffins – I often bake a double mixture, freezing excess for school-lunches or whatever, so I’m not heating the oven to make one thing

-bake multiple things at once…a cake, a loaf of bread, some muffins…

-when baking, think ahead to dinner – could you use the heat of the oven to roast or bake something for dinner so you don’t have to later?

-when baking, wrap potatoes in foil and tuck them around the baking trays, then take them to work for an easy lunch

-when baking, pour two inches of rice into a casserole dish, cover with stock until stock is about two inches above rice. Put lid on, put in oven. Check occasionally to make sure there is enough liquid. The rice will absorb the stock, cook, and you will end up with yummy flavoured baked rice for re-heating at dinner time or for a salad base.

-when baking, why not also whip up something for lunch? Beat eggs, add greens and cheese. Grease muffin trays, pour in eggy mixture and you have a dozen baseless ‘quiches’ for lunch with minimal effort!

-put a mixture of dried fruit into a small oven dish (apricots, dates, figs, prunes, sultanas, whatever), add a couple of teaspoons of spices (cinnamon, ginger – whatever flavours you are fond of), cover with warm water, put lid on, put in oven. You will end up with delicious macerated fruit – yummy on cereal, ice-cream or by itself with whipped cream.

-bake fresh fruit using same method as above…

-put oats in an oven tray and toast the oats for muesli. You can add sweetners and oil to the oats, but you don’t have to – even toasting the oats without sweetners adds a lot of flavour

-thinly spread roughly dessicated coconut on a pizza tray and toast. Toasted coconut is delicious spread over desserts, yoghurt or curries. (You have to watch it though – whip it out as soon as it goes lightly brown. It burns easily.)

-toast nuts, or seeds. A yummy snack is stirring a tablespoon of tamari into one cup each of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Then toast. Delicious by itself or sprinkled over salads. Also adds a yummy crunch to sandwhiches.

-in tomato season, if you have a tomato glut, or if they are really cheap and you buy a box or whatever, cut in half, brush with olive oil and put in turned off oven to make ‘sun-dried’ tomatoes. You will have to do this a few times to get entirely dry tomatoes, but even semi-dried tomatoes are delicious and intense in flavour, you will just have to use them up faster than dried.

-if you have people over and you have used the oven to make dinner, put some kalamata olives in a about half a cup of olive oil, add finely grated lemon peel, herbs of your choosing and black pepper. Warm in the cooling oven and serve with bread. Olives are delicious at room temperature, but slightly warmed with these additions? SUBLIME.

-turn elderly bread into croutons – cut into small squares, brush with oil using a pastry brush, bake

-rice crackers gone stale? Don’t throw them out – put them on a pizza tray and put them into the oven after you’ve finished baking and oven is turned off. It brings them back to life. Works for wheat crackers, also.

-if you are a gardener, keep your eggshells. Put them into the turned off, cooling oven. They will go dry and brittle, making them easy to crush up with a mortar and pestle (or just use a bottle!) for sprinkling onto your vege garden. They add calcium and trace elements to the soil. You can also sprinkle rings of egg-shell around brassicas and salad vegetables to deter slugs. (Of course the egg-shells will break down by themselves if you throw them whole into the compost, but this way they will break down much much faster and you can put them directly on the garden, skipping the compost heap.)

-if you have a herb garden, use the turned off/cooling oven to dry herbs for cooking or herbal tea. Pick herbs, wash, dry very thoroughly with a tea-towel, spread thinly on an oven tray, put into oven. (I do this with lavender and it fills the house with a heady lavender smell.)

-thinly grate lemon peel on the fine side of your grater, spread thinly on a pizza tray, put into a cooling/turned off oven. Then you have dried lemon peel for adding to cooking or making lemon salt.

-use the turn off/cooling oven to dry dishes! If you are hand washing dishes, put some of the large, space-taking items like pots and pans into the warm oven to dry. Gets them off the bench, out of the way and drying so there is room for the rest of the dishes.

OK! I hope that gives you some ideas, anyway. Now that I’ve been doing this a few years, I get all twitchy when I see people heat their ovens just to bake a dozen muffins! There will no doubt come a time when we have to return to some pioneering ways because of the world’s diminshing resources, so I am getting into the swing of it now. I hope I might have inspired you too, as well, if you weren’t already.


8 responses to “Pioneer cooking for energy efficiency”

  1. awesome. i love the baked potatoes tip- will def. be trying that!
    i often use a cooling oven as an extra heater in the winter. brings back memories of student days when it was the only oven we had…


  2. What a brilliant concept! I tend to do this when cooking also but I just thought it made sense to batch cook. Great to read some fantastic stories about thrifty living!!
    Love your blog by the way!!


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