Cooking Without Fire

This morning I read about the ongoing disaster from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Then I turned to the UN’s new assessment that we have no choice but to stop burning coal and other fossil fuels, and very soon. Then I read my congressman’s vow to choke off taxpayer investment in renewable technology – to “stop subsidizing risky and unproven technologies at the expense of American taxpayers.”

Okay, let’s review this: Nuclear is imponderably risky for millennia to come; fossil fuels are leading us into planetary imbalances not seen in many millions of years; and politicians are committed to keeping things just the way they are.

Oh, and one more thing: We are stewards – not owners – accountable for a groaning creation that doesn’t belong to us: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” Psalm 24:1.

So we’re caught in a hopeless trap? Unable to effect change until the gods of technology finally get around to rescuing us? Waiting on ephemeral political change to break the gridlock?

Actually, not at all. Because the biggest changes are easily within our reach, in the form of efficiency and measured consumption. Your congressman can’t stop you from lightening your footprint. And yesterday, we had the pleasure of trying something really nifty: Cooking without fire.

It happens that our kids Nathan and Sarah Elwood just came back from Uganda, and brought with them an early Christmas present: something called a Kookinbag. Originally developed in Uganda, Kookinbag is a UK version of what is called a “fireless cooker” in parts of East Africa. (Friends in Kenya actually first introduced us to the idea.) It’s basically a well-insulated basket that holds a pot of long-cooking foods like beans, rice, soups or stews, permitting them to cook for hours after being boiled for only minutes.

Around here, black beans and rice – or feijao com arroz – are a staple, especially on Meatless Mondays. But the beans take a long time on the stove, and that’s doubly problematic in the summer heat, what with burning the stove gas and raising the mercury in the farmhouse. But with the Kookinbag, all that changes.

potSo here’s how it went yesterday. As always, we soaked the dried beans, and then heated them to boiling on the stove. Trust me, there are beans in there.



bagThen, we loosened the Kookinbag drawstring, and pulled out the pillow-like top.




pot in cookerIn goes the hot saucepan with the beans and water.




closed upThe pillow fits onto the top, and the drawstring is pulled tight again. Then off to bed.




beansNext morning, voila! Fully cooked, tender black beans. Now, sautéed onions, bell peppers, garlic and seasonings are a cinch, and the feast is ready in minutes. Rice cooks the same way, but only takes about 20 minutes.

Here’s an idea of the amount of fuel-burn time you’ll need to cook other things with this fireless cooker:


Oh, and in case you don’t get around to finding one of these gizmos for yourself, we’ve used the same idea for months now using a second, larger pot lined with pot-holders and kitchen towels. Try it yourself!

Creation care may seem like the stuff of policymakers, inventors and diplomats. But sometimes, it’s as simple as cooking beans.

Note: Special thanks to Craig Sorley of Care of Creation Kenya for introducing us to this great idea. A great mission, and worthy of generous support.

3 thoughts on “Cooking Without Fire

  1. Darren Beem

    That is so cool. Kind of like a low tech crockpot. When you say that it takes 20 minutes to cook white rice, how many cups are you talking about. That’s pretty amazing, because that’s probably just as fast (if not faster) than a rice cooker. Our old rice cooker had an electrical problem, so we’ve been cooking rice on the oven. This sounds even better.

    1. John Elwood Post author

      Darren, the cooking time for rice (or anything else, actually) isn’t affected by volume. That is to say, once you have raised the rice/water to a boil and simmered for a couple of minutes, then the fireless cooker will cook any volume in the same time. Of course, it takes a little longer to initially heat a larger quantity of rice than a smaller amount, but this is understood.
      Personally, I have found rice cookers to be a low-value kitchen appliance, because rice cooks in its own heat, once boiled, very effectively. Even without a Kookinbag, you can remove the lidded rice saucepan from the stove, cover it with a few kitchen towels, and you’ll have cooked rice in about 30 minutes. This is true for white rice, but brown or wild rice would take longer, and may need a little more time on the stove.

  2. gmurphy2011

    Hi John
    So glad ha you like the Kookinbag. If any of your friends want to try one out they are available on our site
    The kookinbag was developed to help women in rural communities in Uganda. A recent UN survey discovered that over 7 million women and children in the developing world die of respiratory diseases directly connected to cooking over an open fire(using wood or charcoal). The kookinbag reduces dramatically the amount of time spent bending over an open fire stirring food. It also saves up to 80% of the fuel costs. And an added bonus, that the food does not burn and washing up is is easier!


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