Cooking up a Storm

In March 1942, the UK Government rationed supplies of coal, gas and electricity as part of wartime efforts to conserve energy. You might remember that from history lessons, or parents’ and grandparents’ wartime stories. In the Autumn of 2022, similar rationing strategies were discussed by the UK Government, though interestingly, they were never implemented. Increasing prices to beyond the financial capacity of the majority of households, perhaps seemed like an easier way of getting the public to reduce their energy usage, whilst still ensuring all those Very Important Shareholders get paid their dividends on time and in full. Over 80 years later, the rhetoric and propaganda of war is still being used in full force, it’s just a lot easier now to see who financially benefits.

Early in 2022, when news of the coming energy price hikes was just beginning to whisper into our ears, and the fear of unpayable gas bills landing on the doorsteps was just beginning to creep into our consciousness, I started to think about how we could reduce further our already frugal energy consumption. One of the things I looked into was the idea of haybox cooking – an old-fashioned term that brought to mind wild camping, 1940’s caravan holidays, and wartime energy saving.

The basic premise of haybox cooking is heat retention. A pan of hot food, kept in a box of hay or other insulating material, retains its heat over a longer period and the food just keeps on cooking. So, ten minutes on the stove to bring a pot to boil, then popped into such a box, would mean a meal for the family could be slow cooked without using up further energy supplies.

Our first experiments with this were rather hilarious – wrapping blankets and towels around a pot to see how long it would take to cook a stew, and how much insulation we really needed. The results were always edible, but the amount of insulation we needed, and the practicality of having to walk around a mountain of blankets for a day made it a bit of a mission.

When I looked at the cost of buying a ready-made cooking bag, or “Wonderbag”, I decided very quickly that I couldn’t justify it – a weeks food shopping for something I could make myself? Plus, all the ones I found were filled with the tiny polystyrene balls you find in bean bags and scattered across beaches. Not for me.

And so, I made one. An old cotton curtain, and a bag of untreated sheep’s wool that I had been gifted, an afternoon of sewing and an hour of stuffing as much wool as I could into the padded areas of the bag, and it was done. I added pads for below the pot and to further insulate the top, and then spent half an hour in the kitchen chopping veg and bringing a heavy bottomed pot of soup makings to the boil. Six hours later, and the contents of the pot, encased within the cooking bag, was still piping hot, and, joyfully, fully cooked. Since that day, we use our cooking bag three or four times a week. I use it to soak and cook dried beans of all varieties, make soup and stew and curry. The latter is a favourite – I’ve just learned how to make satay and have been using up my stores of crunchy peanut butter to this end.

The end game of making such a bag, was primarily to save money in energy costs, and when I realised this was achievable, I decided to create a pattern and tutorial so that even someone with only basic skills would be able to make their own hot pot cooking bag, utilising materials they already have in order to keep costs low, and make the project as zero waste as possible. If you’d like to make a cooking bag, wherever you are in the world, the pattern and tutorial are here. I hope they help you and maybe you could make one for your neighbour who can’t sew, or the mama down the street who has zero child free time to contemplate such a project, or the family who are already so deep in financial crisis that they don’t have the energy. Lets help one another wherever we can in these challenging times, because while the propaganda of war is the same now as it was in the 1940’s, we can choose now how we respond to it. Love and light, friends. Let’s cook up a little resistance. Rebellion soup is on the menu.

Get my Hot Pot Thermal Insulated Cooking Bag Pattern here!

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