Crock-pots are in almost every kitchen. They sit on the counter or hidden away in a cupboard, collecting dust unless we are really strapped for time. In actuality, slow cooking has been used to prepare meals for hundreds of years. Today is so much easier; it is amazing this method is not used more often.
Slow cooking has been around ever since people figured out how to make an iron pot. One could be hung over a fire for many hours while food simmered in it, or a smaller one could be filled with ingredients and buried in the coals to cook. People have long known the benefits of slow cooking their food. The obvious detriment to these methods was the attention it took tending the fire all day and stirring the contents of the pots.
Cooking on a low heat for many hours tenderizes tough meats through the softening of the fibers. The natural collagen also melts, creating a tender, delicious meal that is full of gelatin and nutrition. Long cooking times may also be beneficial to tough root crops, rendering them more digestible. Dried beans and lentils also benefit from a long cooking time on low heat.
The Birth of the Crock Pot
The Naxon Utilities Corporation in Chicago developed what we recognize as a slow cooker in the 1950s. They called their new pot the Beanery All Purpose Cooker. It was meant to help make baked beans. The Beanery was a ceramic pot situated inside a metal pan equipped with heating elements around the sides. This heated the ceramic pot evenly, while keeping the heat away from directly contacting the food.
Naxon was bought by Rival in 1970. The Beanery was reinvented as the Crock Pot. During the 1970s, more women were joining the workforce, and the Crock Pot helped them manage to feed their families as well. It was easy enough to fill it before they left for work and be able to come home to a hot meal.
As the years have progressed, so has the Crock Pot. Now they feature removable ceramic pots for easier cleaning and storage of leftovers. The old ones were a single piece, making cleaning difficult due to the attached electrical cord. The new ceramic liners are even dishwasher safe, making them even more convenient for busy families. Many of the newer slow cookers also feature a warming setting as well as Low and High. Some are electronic and will automatically switch to warm when the food is done.
Long ago, women cooked many different meals slowly over the fire. Today, our crock-pots offer even more versatility. Stews, roasts and casseroles are very common meals that are made every day in the crock pot, but you can also make dishes like lasagna, sweet and sour chicken, and even your best chicken noodle soup recipes in your slow cooker.
Like the traditional methods, crock-pots can also be used to bake breads and cakes. The more you play with your crock-pot, the more you may enjoy it. Desserts and other great recipes are waiting to be tried.