Keeping the pots boiling when the lights go out
Not many people know this, but France is also experiencing load-shedding in certain regions, like Var in Southern France and Ardennes in the north. More than 70,000 households have been affected by the country’s energy crisis so far in 2023, an unfortunate side-effect of what leading French newspaper Le Monde calls a lack of vision and common sense on the government’s part. Sound familiar? The point is that our energy crisis in South Africa is not unique, even if it could have been avoided. More and more countries across the globe are facing similar challenges. But with winter fast approaching in the southern hemisphere, a lot of South Africans are concerned about how to brave the chill without power, starting with the heart of the home – our kitchens.
Well, ’n boer maak ’n plan, as we say in Afrikaans. We don’t need an excuse to braai, for one thing, but what other heat-adjacent solutions do we have in our arsenal? Let’s find out.
Safety is, of course, the main concern when considering cooking indoors by non-traditional means, like in a professionally installed oven or stove, so use your discretion. When it’s a toss-up between takeaways and putting your safety in danger, the choice should be easy.
The thought must have crossed your mind (more than once). It’s simple. If you can make a fire you can cook. If you have a braaikamer, you’re all sorted on this front, but a fireplace is a little bit more complicated. Whether you have an open or closed fireplace, for instance is basically the difference between an indoor braai and a wood-fired oven.
Whatever form your fireplace takes, though, there’s a lot you can do with a roll of tin foil, like cooking anything from skin-on sweet potatoes to roast veggies. Askoek (essentially roosterkoek that bakes directly on the coals), of course, requires no foil. To take your hearth cooking up a notch, install a fireplace grate. Once you’re able to elevate the food above the coals, you can start cooking in a cast-iron skillet, or if your fireplace is large enough, a cast-iron pot (potjiekos or potbrood anyone?). Also, with a grate, there’s nothing stopping you from introducing sosaties to your repertoire.
It’s as makeshift as it sounds. There are many ways to make a rocket stove, but the beauty of it is that if made well, you don’t really need more than a handful of twigs to get enough heat for cooking basics, like eggs, poaching fish, or making tea. All you need is a large Ricoffy can, two baked-bean-sized cans, and an extra tin can for building a small shelf, some insulation, and a wire hanger. The best part about a rocket stove is that it’s relatively safe to use indoors but keep it away from flammable objects all he same.
Ok, this is technically indoors too, but you’ll definitely need to open the garage door if you’re planning on car-cooking indoors. If you’ve ever camped completely off-grid, using the heat of your car engine to cook food is nothing new to you. As with your fireplace, tin foil is your friend here. The process is very trial and error – and depends greatly on what type of car you have and how much heat it generates – but in a nutshell, you’re using the heat under bonnet as an oven. Wrap your food in tin foil, put it on the engine (away from moving parts), and close the bonnet. From there, check in on the food’s progress every so often.
It must be said that this is not the greenest way to cook, and idling for an hour or more will have an impact on your car’s longevity in the long run, but in an emergency, has been a cooking go-to since the invention of the automobile.
This does require a little extra investment if you don’t already have one, but it’s a load-shedding staple. You can use a portable gas stove indoors, but do a little research on gas before you do. Because of the volatile nature of propane gas, it’s not generally considered safe to use in the house, but butane gas burns cleaner.
This ancient cooking technique involves burying what you want to cook just below ground and making a fire on top of it. In regions like the Middle East, cooking meats in the sand is not unheard of, but on one of his early trips to the Kalahari – a few years before opening Klein JAN – Jan Hendrik baked a “sand bread” in the same way (his method was documented in JAN the Journal Volume 1). The desert sand, of course, is a lot cleaner than the average suburban sand pit, but if the food is properly covered in foil or in a metal container, anything you can cook in your oven can be cooked underground.
ONE LAST THING
The biggest adjustment to cooking alternatively is that you can’t follow any recipe that starts with the words, “Preheat oven to 180 °C.” You have to build up an instinct for how food cooks without the “mod cons”. Cooking in different ways needn’t cost you an arm and a leg, but invest in an accurate thermometer and there’s almost no limit to what you can cook.
While we all know when a skewer comes out clean after poking it into cake or bread, it’s baked through, meat can be a little trickier. If your thermometer doesn’t come with a meat temperature chart, follow the one below.