Way, way back, we bought a Peka Lula Wonder Box in Cape Town, South Africa. We had just started living together, my future husband and I, and we figured that this simple energy saving kitchen helper would save us power. This purchase was made LONG before I even knew what Sustainable Living was about! Fast forward 3 decades later, and I still use my Wonder Box at LEAST once a week, most often more frequently. It is an amazing invention that goes back to WWII when people had to conserve fuel and used hay boxes to cook meals (hay being the common form of insulation).
In South Africa, in the townships, power is very expensive and most cooking is done on a Primus Stove. This stove was invented in the late 1800’s and works with paraffin. The staple diet of beans and maize (corn) takes much energy to cook, so a Wonder Box does the cooking without using any power. Similar principle as the Hay box, this Wonder Box is made by the IHC community and consists of 2 cushions filled with polystyrene balls for insulation. Shock, horror, now I know what an environmental catastrophe polystyrene is, but I console my vexed soul and remind myself that I am still using it 30-odd years on.
My Wonder Box was bought for a grand sum of R25 about 30 years ago. Current exchange rate puts that at roughly NZ $5. The original cardboard box has seen wear and tear and much reinforcing. I use it for cooking rice, sago pudding, soups, beans etc. where one needs an extended heat, without burning the food. It is big and bulky and dominates my kitchen when in use but has paid for itself a million times over! The 2 polystyrene ball-filled cushions insulate the pot of food and allows the heat to continue cooking the food without gas or electricity. The first step is to bring the pot to the boil and then put it into the box to continue cooking.
As you can see from the photo at the top, my Wonder Box was in dire need of repair that went beyond all the previous duct tape repairs. People talk of a Man Shed……….. in our home, it’s a Girl Shack! I love nothing better than pottering around in our garden shack, a collection of hand-tools to see me by and a stack of off-cut cedar kindling bits to hand. There is no power in the shack, so a solar-powered radio for company is as good as it gets! I’d had an idea for some time, to upgrade my Wonder Box and so I did just that!
So over 2 days, I holed myself up in our freezing winter shed, sawed and hammered, measured and sanded, till I had created another box out of cedar wood! I love the challenge of figuring things out and making them work! It gives me as much pleasure as a day spent reading a good book! The plot! The suspense! The thrill! The trickiest bit of this project was figuring out how to attach the side panels to the bottom of the box. I made a simple lid, and put some old handles to good use. The test: A pot of rice cooked to perfection!
The Wonder Box works wonders with soups, stews, rice, sago pudding etc (anything that requires a high ratio of liquid). One simply brings the liquid to the boil, then places the closed pot between the bottom and top pillows and places the box lid on top. The insulated box allows the pot to continue cooking the food to perfection, without burning, overflowing or using energy! Perfectly sustainable way of cooking!
The final coup d’ gras: a coat of organic coconut oil to protect the wood. And now this Wonder Box has another 3 decades of work ahead! 😄