As fuel prices sky rocket and the fragile ecology of the planet is being disturbed by the ‘greenhouse effect’ it is beholden on us all to reduce the amount of energy we consume. The build up of CO2 caused by burning of coal and gas to generate electricity is now threatening the world we know and fuel economies could help to reverse this trend.
The Hay Box Method
One way of doing this is to use the Hay Box cooking technique. This technique was developed in Britain during the Second World War when fuel had to be conserved. It is a method that is best suited to dishes like soups or stews that have a high liquid content. The long, slow cooking helps to tenderise meat and develop fuller flavours.
The method is simple, but effective. If making a stew one first chooses a heavy casserole dish – one made from cast iron or a similar material that retains heat is best. The usual cooking method is employed and the whole dish is assembled in the pan which is then brought up to boiling point on the gas or electric hob. This is important as high temperature is needed to kill germs. Once the dish has achieved the right temperature it is placed in an insulated box.
Making your Hay Box
The size of box used is around the size of a tea chest (approximately 80 x 80 x 80 cm). The box is lined with paper (to seal any holes) and half filled with fine textured hay. The hot pan is then placed into the hay. A pillowcase full of hay on top of the casserole dish seals in the heat and then the box is closed.
Using Modern Materials
A modern equivalent of this is to use shredded newspaper in an aluminium foil lined box. The aluminium foil – shiny side facing inwards – helps to reflect heat back into the box. Instead of using paper, one could also use either polystyrene packaging sheets wrapped in aluminium foil or a blanket. A heavy duty cardboard box will suffice if a wooden box is not available.
Crock Pot Cookery
One alternative to the hay box is the slow cooker, or Crock Pot as they are also known. These are insulated pots that are heated by an electrical element which consumes the equivalent of a light bulb. To cook in a crock pot one typically assembles all of the ingredients in the pot except the thickening agent which is added during the last 45 minutes to create a sauce.
Things to Avoid with Slow Cooking
The down side of slow cooking is that there is a risk of bacterial growth if food has been kept warm for an extended period. Extended cooking can also reduce the vitamin content of some foods. To get the safe cooking time using this method, simply multiply the normal oven cooking time by 3.
Since no liquid is lost during cooking it is also important to remember to reduce the amount of stock used when assembling the dish initially by approximately one quarter.