“Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat. In our mad rush for progress and modern improvements let's be sure we take along with us all the old-fashioned things worth while.” Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hay/Hot Box Slow Cooking

Improvised Hot Box Slow Cooker

I read about this method of cooking over at Dani's blog (in South Africa) and thought I'd adapt my own box cooker with what I had on hand to see how this works.  I took a large box and nestled a medium box inside surrounded with packing peanuts.  The bottom of the medium box was stuffed with some shredded newspaper .. then I placed my filled cast iron Dutch oven full of stew that I had prepared and brought to a boil.. wrapped in a large towel in on top of the newspapers .. packed more paper and another towel around the pot .. closed both boxes .. and covered it with a blanket and a few pillows at 10:15 AM.  At 4:00 PM I checked and it was cooked but the meat needed to be more tender so I brought it to a boil again .. packed it up and left it until dinner time at 6:00 PM.  

Beef stew boiling hot ready to get covered and placed in box.
Total cooking time on the stove with browning the meat and bringing to a boil twice was about 25 minutes ... thus saving about 2 hours worth of fuel.    The packing peanuts at no time got hot as the majority of the heat stayed in the Dutch oven insulated inside the medium size box.  Here are some links that explain the process and give better directions.  I hope to have Hubby make me a proper box as this is a nutritious way to cook AND save energy.

Finished beef stew .. thickened while slow cooking in the hot box.
Hot Box Beef Stew Recipe:

2 pounds beef stew meat
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into one inch pieces
1 onion diced
1 cup mushrooms
1 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper to taste
flour for dredging beef

Heat Dutch oven and add a tablespoon of cooking oil.  Have beef prepared by drying well and dredging in flour.  You can salt and pepper the meat a bit.  Cook in three batches, browning on both sides.  You may have to add a little more oil.  When all of the beef is browned, add it back to the pan along with the potatoes, carrots and onion .. stirring.  Add about 12 ounces of beef stock.  (I added 6 ounces of beer and 6 ounces of water).  Add thyme and bring to a boil.  Adjust salt and pepper.  Boil for about 10 minutes with the lid on.  Place the hot pot on a old thick bath towel and wrap the edges tightly around the pot.  Carefully place the hot pot inside the well insulated medium box and stuff more newspaper and a towel over .. around the covered pot.  Close up the box.  Add another towel .. and close up the large box.  Cover well with a blanket and some pillows ... and allow to sit for about 5 hours .. check again .. if the meat is not tender, bring to another boil and reseal the same was as before.  I read somewhere with meat dishes to bring to a boil before serving.  Our stew came out of the box piping hot.

Here are some links for more information:

Rediscover the Hay Box Cooker/Mother Earth News
Thermal Cooking


Felisol said...

You are so cool, Mrs. Mac,
My Mom used to tell me about this method. They had a wooden box and filled it with hay, then put the kettle inside when it was brought to boil. Do you know where they placed it? In the bed, under the eiderdown quilt and the woven bedspread.
If I do recall rightly, my mother did it to make rice porridge. The good thing about the hay box was that the food would never be burnt, which of course often happens when making porridge.

Anonymous said...

I had read about this a couple of years ago, but it slipped out one of the holes in my head. I am definitely going to try this with my grand girls this weekend!

Dani said...

Mrs Mac - cool - have been wondering how you fared :-)

The secret is to ensure that the food in the initial boil is heated right through (sometimes that means boiling for 10 - 20 minutes depending on the density of the food) prior to placing in your hotbox. Then, very important, at the end of the day bring the food back to the boil for 10 minutes, so as to kill any bacteria that may have grown during the "slow cooking" process.

Here's hoping hubby gets busy making you a permanent hot box :-)

Kathryn said...

Duane showed me something about this some time ago, but i have to be honest, it never occurred to me to emulate it!

You are so cool. :)

Roasted Garlicious said...

Dani answered my question about the bacteria... and your stew looks very very tasty!!!

Laurie said...

I'm so glad to see your post. You were on my mind on the drive home today, & I was hoping all was well. I've used a hot box for several years. My ex made it for me some time ago. It's a wooden covered box, and he put the pot I was going to use in it, then used blue board and "Great Stuff" foam to fill in the remaining space. I've cooked grains & potatoes in it, but not meat as I'm a vegetarian. It's a wonderful thing in the summer, to keep the heat out of the house. Sometimes the simplest technologies work wonderfully!

MrsHoneysuckle said...

I've never heard of this....Love the concept!!! It is definitely something I am going to try!!!