The History of the Slow Cooker
Excerpted from The Farmer's Wife Slow Cooker Cookbook by Lela Nargi
The history of the slow cooker is a brief and simple one. Simple, because the origin of today’s spiffy slow cooker is the beanpot. And there’s not much that’s simpler than the lowly bean or the method for cooking it—soak, simmer, and eat.
Beanpots were traditionally squat ceramic vessels that were glazed inside and out. They were designed to do nothing more than hold the beans while they were very slowly cooked for a period of many hours over a fire—often enough over an open fire, out on the range, or suspended in the fireplace. These were the days before canned, precooked beans were readily available on supermarket shelves, and housewives and ranch hands were required to prepare their own. The theory behind slow cooking the beans (as opposed to pressure-cooking them, the exact opposite method in which beans can be made ready to eat in a matter of minutes) is that long, slow simmering in a seasoned liquid will allow their innate bland flavor to take on the flavors of molasses, herbs, onions, garlic, and bacon. Boston Baked Beans are the quintessential example of what the beanpot was capable of producing.
Eventually, some innovator hit upon the idea of designing an electric beanpot. Like its nonelectric counterpart, it was meant to slow-cook the beans, but without the use of fuel, and without the cook having to attend to it. One design, the Beanery, was developed by an ill-fated company called Naxon Utilities. When
the company was purchased by The Rival Company in 1970, the Beanery was absorbed into the new corporate structure and might have been forgotten. However, the president of Rival asked his on-staff home economist to experiment with the humble pot, to see what it would yield in addition to beans. What resulted
was an entire book of “gourmet” slow-cooked recipes, and the remodeling of the Beanery into the Crock-Pot. Its motto: “Cooks all day while the cook’s away.”
For years, throughout most of the 1970s, the Crock-Pot was hailed as the savior of the modern woman who no longer cared to be chained to her stove and a life of kitchen-bound drudgery, or to be referred to or thought of as a “housewife,” for that matter. The Crock-Pot would allow her to attend to the joys and demands of her career outside the home, yet still prepare delicious meals for her family, quickly, effortlessly,
painlessly. A batch of ingredients went into the Crock-Pot in the morning before work and school. By the
time everyone had arrived home at the end of the day, dinner was fully prepared. The only thing left to do was to serve the meal and maybe dish out some ice cream for dessert.
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The early twentieth-century world of The Farmer’s Wife may be vastly different than our own hectic, high-tech times, but some things never change—like a taste for the kind of food that’s cooked all day, the long-simmered stews and chilis, pot roasts and soups and puddings that savor of comfort and care. Culled from the pages of The Farmer’s Wife and adapted for contemporary lifestyles and kitchenware, these recipes help today’s cook recapture the full rich flavor of slow-cooked food steeped in the traditions of America’s heartland. With a modicum of preparation in the morning or even the night before, anyone can come home to the kind of meals that yesterday’s farmer’s wife prepared; the slow-cooked beans and barbeque, casseroles, and hot dishes that could serve a few friends, a big hungry family, or a whole community. For party dishes that let a host focus on guests; for meals that won’t heat up the summer kitchen; for hearty, delicious fare to satisfy gatherings big and small with leftovers to store for later meals, these slow-cooker recipes are the perfect time-wise, money-saving way to dish up a great helping of farmland history.