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How will We Cook When the Lights Go Out?

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

January 2020

Remember that for Christmas we gave our sons and daughter’s families water barrels to store drinking water. We bought water pumps for each household and a lead free hose for the families to share. Meanwhile, we celebrated other family events with gifts of food storage and cookbooks.

For when the earth rumbles or the east wind blows, we may not have power.

How will you and I and our neighbors heat our food?

Even though the Richens have lots of trees on our tree farms, we live in Portland, not in our woods.

Our home's fireplace isn’t built for the hanging pot that my Arkansas relatives once used – true for most homes built after 1900.

Moreover, wood fires are inefficient. Also, in-house fireplaces drag in cold air to keep themselves burning. You’re going to be trying to keep heat in your house.

We used to have a wood stove that might have been good for cooking, but it put a lot of particulates in the air.

We want to find a cooking process that doesn’t turn Portland, the City of Roses, into western China.

When the next natural emergency hits your part of the country, you’ll also want a way to cook that is clean and efficient.

That’s where my friend, Mary, (not her real name) came to my rescue. She has discovered a simple process that is clean, has low toxicity and doesn’t use a lot of fuel.

You can save fuel, and safely cook your food by buying a one burner butane stove and creating a hot box.

Mary showed me her solution to cooking with as little butane as possible. In fact, we had a great lunch made with her one burner butane stove.

“Five minutes to bring the water to a boil," Mary says.

“Add the rice or chopped potatoes or whatever you’ve decided to use. The water comes back to a boil in a minute. Then boil the rice for five minutes only, take it off the burner, add reconstituted air dried vegetables and any other cut up food you’ve decided on. Put it in the Hot Box (more about this below) for a couple of hours. All is cooked and the insulation in your hot box is still warm.”

Off the stove into the Hot Box. Two hours later, her food was cooked and her sleeping bag was warm.

What could be more efficient use of a heating/cooking system?

And why butane and not propane?

Chemists will remember that in the presence of plenty of oxygen, butane puts out carbon dioxide, but Propane puts out carbon monoxide which we don’t want to be breathing.

“That’s why demonstrations in the grocery store are done on butane burners,” Mary says.

Of course, while butane puts out mostly carbon dioxide, anything used to create fire also creates some carbon monoxide. You cannot use these types of heating materials in a small room. So, no cooking in the closet, my friends! Give the butane plenty of air and store it carefully where there is air, too.

The stove Mary had was built by Stansport, but after much calling around, I was able to buy locally almost the same good stove for my families under two different brands. Big Five Sporting Goods had almost the same stove in two different brands, including the Gas One, which I bought.

So, for my Christmas list that year, I cleaned Big Five out of them. (They’ve restocked). Friends have already bought more for Christmas. You can find them, too.

The other sporting goods and home stores I visited carried only propane stoves for outdoor camping. Those stoves are fine if you are where the carbon monoxide dissipates quickly, like out in the cold morning air, but in an emergency situation, you’ll want to cook where you can keep yourself as warm as possible.

What’s a Hot Box? Mary showed me.

Hers is a cardboard box.

“The corrugation is one part of the insulation,” she says. “I put my sleeping bag into the box and fold it around all sides of the hot cooking pan and then put the box lid on. The food just keeps on cooking for the next hours.”

So, with the hot box, Mary saves on butane. She can get eight to ten hot dinners out of one bottle.

All of these materials can be purchased locally, but you can get butane bottles for a lot less if you buy them online by the case.

You, my friends, already know that I want to credit my creative friend with her real name, but she would rather not be identified. Why?

While helping to host neighborhood preparedness meetings, two different neighbors told her that they didn’t need to take the time to get prepared for emergencies because they knew she had stored all that would be needed.

Wow! Really?

I asked “Mary” how she answered these boors.

“I couldn’t believe they meant it, but then I realized they were serious,” she said. “I just stood there with my mouth open.”

I suggested, “How about 'I will share with people who can share with me, so get yourself ready, my friend.'”

“Maybe next time," she replied, "But, it’s unbelievable that anyone would think that way!”

Yep. It really is.

So, I’m off to figure out how to more ways to use birthdays and other events as excuses to help my family and friends get ready.


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