Eleanor Shimeall, 82, has spent nearly a quarter of a century cooking in a cardboard box…and swears by it.
While her husband Clark, 83, taught at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Eleanor was an active member of the League of Women Voters. Her experiences with the harsh realities for women in Guatemala caused her to reassess her use of energy and raw materials.
“One of the things that really struck me was how much time and effort is spent by women in villages gathering fuel and water to feed their families,” she says, “not to mention the environmental impact of deforestation for that fuel.”
Eleanor began experimenting with a solar oven, a diabolically simple energy-saving device. In its simplest form, it’s a cardboard box within a larger cardboard box. Wadded newspaper is placed between the two for insulation. A piece of glass is put on top of the box openings and a tin-foil reflector is fastened to one side of the box. The reflector is tilted depending upon the sun’s location to increase the amount of rays hitting the glass.
“The internal temperature gets up to about 250,” says Eleanor, who moved with Clark to Borrego Springs in San Diego County in 1996. “It’s the same principle as leaving a VW out in the sun with the windows rolled up.”
Of course, the downside of a slow-cook oven is that nothing cooks quickly or gets crisp. Nevertheless, Eleanor more than makes up for this by baking bread and cooking turkeys, chicken and roasts. Although he’s the grateful recipient of his wife’s cooking, Clark says his repertoire is somewhat limited. “I just do nachos.”