I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of a hay box for cooking, but haven’t got around to building one. Has anyone here any experience with it? I would think something other than hay (like recycled styrofoam insulation, chipped, in a cloth bag) would work as well or better than hay, which is fine if you have lots of it on a farm, but a nuisance for most of us. There’s lots on the internet about it – I just wondered about different experiences here.
I am also intrigued by the hay box. Reading about them in a book by John Michael Greer (The Archdruid Report) and I've been doing research as well wondering the same thing about what to use to insulate the box. Don't really want to use hay. And what kind of pot to use. Apparently not the ceramic like you get with a slow cooker. Would a stainless steel pot work?
I don't know of any limitations as to kind of pot, except that ceramic would be less useful if you wanted to do the preliminary heating on a stove. I would think anything that has a lid with a good seal, so that moisture would stay in the pot. Also, if it is something like cast iron, it would have the additional advantage of holding more heat.
I first read about it in a children's book from the late '40's/early '50's, as a carry-over from war-time Britain, when fuel was in extreme shortage and people had to save as much as they could. I don't think they had anything fancy in the way of pots then – probably enameled steel.
I've just come back from the recycling yard with some styrofoam packaging, and will try running it through a leaf shredder and see if that gives me small pellet-sized bits to put in a big cloth bag, which can wrap around the pot. Then another bag on top. I've seen that idea on-line and it looks workable.
I'll report in due course…
Yes, please report back. I want as much knowledge about things that don't cost money as possible, just in case electricity, etc does become too expensive for me in the future.
I don't personally have any experience with hay box cooking though I too found it interesting when I first read about it on John Michael Greer's blog. A while back I did run across this episode of the Survival Podcast where the guest, Cindy Miller spoke a lot about what's involved with thermal cooking. She's taking the hay box concept and using modern (and more expensive) tools to do it. I suspect anyone seriously interested in trying this could glean some useful information from it.
Some things that I remember from it was that you do need a certain amount of thermal mass to make it work well. This could be obtained by stackable pots with one holding water just for the mass and the other holding the food you want to cook. Of course good insulation plays a big role too.
Interesting notion about the additional thermal mass. As far as I know from a variety of sources, the original hay boxes worked well without the extra effort, but perhaps if people are worried about keeping temperatures up to the levels more modern "food safe" rules demand, the extra mass would help with that. My feeling is, if it worked before it probably still will – we all survived. But a neighbour questioned whether chipped styrofoam might have an issue with off-gassing when heated. I checked it out on-line and it seems to be an open question, but one writer made the point that the danger is most when the styrofoam is "fresh" – which isn't an issue when using recycled stuff.
Anyway, it'll take awhile to get it going but I'll certainly report back. I too would like to have the means available for living on less – we're in our 70s and not likely to be able to increase our income at this stage.
FYI, here's some links on current versions: https://www.milkwood.net/2015/07/06/thermal-cooking/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haybox
This is basically a sewn bag with separate compartments you fill with insulating material. We used the contents of an old beanbag bought from a car boot sale for pennies.
You can get instructions for making one online easily enough. Ours was made to fit a cast iron casserole pan, aka dutch oven. Or you can buy them ready made if sewing isn't your thing.
As far as I'm aware, so long as you get the food to boiling point for a few minutes before you put it into the bag, any bacteria are killed off during that time, so even though it cooks food at less than 100C it's quite safe.
Do you happen to know what the insulating material is? I've finally gotten around to shredding styrofoam from the recycling yard, but have been told that there are possible dangers in it "gassing off". Still need to look into that.