Haybox cooking: how to make a haybox and save energy by Huw WoodmanPosted by Fiona Nevile in Discoveries | 10 comments
Huw Woodman from the Bushcraft Magazine has been looking at ways to save energy, by using the old-fashioned haybox!
Mrs Beeton’s famous 19th century cookery book makes reference to a haybox. What’s one of those? It’s a box full of insulating hay that keeps a stew or other hot dish at sufficient heat so that it cooks without having to keep it in the oven or on the stove for hours.
If you think how a conventional stove hot-pot works, you heat the ingredients up to the boil and then you simmer it for a long while whilst it cooks. The pot loses heat through convection and conduction and the stove keeps that replenished. You are pumping energy into the system to keep it hot enough for the ingredients to cook.
If the heat loss from the pot could be kept to a minimum, then the amount of heat that you’d need to put into the system would also be reduced. The haybox works on this simple principle. You heat the pot to boiling and then transfer it to a highly insulated box and the retained heat does the cooking for you.
I decided to give it a try. I found some old marine ply in the garage, 18mm thick, although any sheet material, such as chipboard or MDF would do. I then made a box out of that plywood. Dimensions? It’s not critical. I worked our how deep a casserole dish with a lid on would be, then I added (roughly), the thickness of two pillows, which would act as the top and bottom insulation. I came up with around 35cm deep. In terms of width and depth, the same principle applied. I made the box about 40 cms square, to allow for the dish plus some insulation (see picture).
I was going to make a rough frame to hold the box together, but I found with the ply that I could screw the box together without needing a frame. There’s no hard and fast rule though!
For a lid, I used the ply again and screwed a couple of bits of wood inside the lid so that they would help seat the top and prevent it from slipping about (see picture).
The box needed a couple of handles and the top also needed a handle, so in the best traditions of saving the planet and using materials that I already had about the place, I used some old electric flex knotted on the inside of the box and passed through some drilled holes – easy!
Now for the cooking and over to Fay, who looks after the administration on the magazine. She’s also a great cook!!
She used some brisket beef – not a great cut, but I was going to make jerky with any left-overs and brisket works well for jerky!
Fay used normal stew ingredients (beef, root vegetables, water and seasoning) and made it up in a hot-pot on the stove. She measured the temperature when it came to the boil – 95 degrees Celsius.
Then into the haybox, with the casserole dish (with its lid on), sitting on top of one of the pillows. She decide to use two old jumpers rather than hay for the side insulation, on the grounds that it might be difficult for some people to get hay easily, and she wrapped these around the pot.
The second pillow went on top and then she put the top on the haybox.
After an hour, she tested the temperature of the stew. It was 75 degrees, but then the heat loss slowed right down and after 4 hours, the temperature was still 65 degrees.
It tasted good. The beef was cooked and the vegetables (potatoes, carrots, swede and turnips) were also cooked. Fay’s not easily impressed, but she was surprised at how well it worked.
So the haybox has become part of my life, along with the Mongolian hotpot and the griddle! It’s a cosy item, that sits well in the house. You could even put a cushion on top and use it as a stool when not in use!
Huw Woodman is the consultant editor of the Bushcraft magazine: http://www.bushcraft-magazine.co.uk/.
The Bushcraft magazine aims to re-connect people to the landscape and older, sometimes forgotten knowledge.
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