Sunday, October 12, 2014

Modern Slow Cooking

Modern slow cooker (Wikimedia Commons)
As An Early Meal suggested, slow cooking of food, either upon heated rocks, in a cauldron over a fire, or by other methods, is an old technique.  However, the modern slow cooker pot--an electric gadget consisting of a thin metal pot containing heating elements and a heavy ceramic crock--is a 20th century invention.

I became curious about the slow cooker when I had to replace my own about two weeks ago.  According to the on-line sources I've seen, the slow cooker was invented by Irving Naxon in the 1930s.  Naxon, who owned a company called the Naxon Utilities Corporation of Chicago, invented the device as a way of cooking beans slowly, as an oven would do.  According to his daughter, he was inspired by stories his Jewish grandmother told of her mother cooking cholent, a traditional meat and bean stew, by placing the stew pot in the local baker's oven so it would slowly simmer during the Sabbath, when cooking and all other work was forbidden.  

Mr. Naxon retired and sold his company, along with the bean pot invention, to The Rival Company (now owned by Sunbeam Products, Inc.) in 1970, and Rival saw opportunity in a device that could be used to cook a meal while the woman of the house was working at a job outside the home. They redesigned Naxon's bean pot, re-named it the Crock Pot, and started selling it in 1971. Then, or soon afterward, the design was modified to make the crock removable, for easy and safe cleaning (since the metal part containing the heating element could not be immersed in water), and that continues to be the basic design of slow cookers today.

It is amusing that we have gone to such lengths to invent a way to duplicate the cauldron using electric power.  However, it doesn't take a lot of analysis to appreciate that Mr. Naxon's invention continues to be a boon for cooks in the 21st century.  The slow cooker gives us the wonderful stews and soups that are only possible with cooking over many hours, without the risks of cooking over an open fire, or on an untended stove. 

Having learned that cholent was an important part of the slow cooker's story, I also became curious about how that particular type of stew was made.  That's a story for another post.

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