Monday, 9 February 2009

Using an urban hay box

I first saw a 'hay box' at least twenty five years ago at the Centre for Alternative Technologies in Machynlleth (in Wales). It was made of wood and polystyrene, I seem to remember. It didn't seem particularly practical.

But I have one now and have been using it regularly with success for the last two winters. As you can see it consists of two parts - both of which look a little bit like beanbags. We live in a city, and there is a distinct shortage of hay, so I guess this is the urban equivalent.

I bought this one from someone in New Zealand (it was very light to send through the post). They've stopped making them now, but if you are a dab hand with a sewing machine, you could construct one yourself and re-use the polystyrene beads that sometimes come with mail order items to fill the bags. It is basically two small bean bags.

There weren't any instructions with mine, and no recipes, so it was trial and error for me. I found it works very well with the lentil recipe featured in my last post. Anyone who has ever made a soup or stew will know that long, slow cooking is the order of the day. So using one saves a considerable amount of fuel (and carbon emissions).

Here's how:

1. Make up the recipe and heat it up really well. It works best with a large, heavy pan.

2. Place pan in hay box bean bag and put the top on. For additional insulation I put the whole hay box plus pan in a cardboard box - I also place a clean table cloth around the pan, so that if there is a spillage I can wash this instead of putting the whole bean bag hay box in the machine.

3. Leave it for three hours (or use it like an electric slow cooker and put it on in the morning for an evening meal) until the lentils are cooked. I don't cook meat dishes in my hay box, although I understand you can.

This is what the whole thing looks like with the top on:
And here's a link to the Centre for Alternative Technologies Shop. You can buy a leaflet for 50p which explains another way of making your own.

I'm really pleased that this blog now has readers from places as far afield as California, India, Poland and Australia. Welcome everyone! I'm sure that readers in these countries have different ways of using hay boxes. During the war here, people sometimes buried cooking vessels in the ground for cooking. Why not write in (use the comments box) and tell us all what your hay box looks like?


  1. Our hay box so far is made from a laundry basket and sleeping bags, small blankets and a towel. It works so well which is significant for a family of 8! I blogged about ours here at There is a video to go with. As a matter of fact, I am currently writing an e-book explaining hay box cooking in detail. This is something LOTS of people should do! Thank you for your post.

  2. I have tried a few times to make slow cooked greek lamb in the oven, but never succeed because I am too impatient, or wary of leaving the food unattended in the oven for five hours. Thisweekend i made it in a sumple haybox, using a basket with a lid and four down pillows stuffed around it. I put the leg of lamb in an enamel 6 litre pot, borned it on top of the stove, added liquid - lemon juice and water, put it into a hot oven with the loid on until it was steaming, an dplaced it in the haybox overnight. The next morning I put it back in the oven to about 10 minutes, and back into the basket, and by lunchtime it was perfect, fork tender lamb. It also made a great conversation piece for my guests.

  3. That's great Lewis. Sounds delicious - I'm going to try that myself!


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