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).
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?