My family has lived in the same house for the last 25 years. Styles have changed, the furniture rearranged (not my husband’s favorite mode of recreation), walls have gone through the colors of the spectrum – you get the idea. But, there is one thing that has not differed by even a fraction of an inch. And what would that be? My slow cooker, sitting on its ceramic-tiled throne of honor, aka the kitchen counter. Yes, indeed. My Crock Pot® has been the one appliance or piece of kitchenware that has survived the parade of forward-looking technology.
Going back 50 plus years, as the United States was recovering from World War II, Baby Boomers and their families were looking for a way to make their lives happy ones. Dad went to work every morning, leaving home just after breakfast and coming home every afternoon to a loving wife and two children, clamoring for Daddy’s attention. Mom was the epitome of the “Donna Reed” generation, always perfectly groomed and with a big smile for everyone. After all, life is all about family. She sought any way possible to have extra time to be with her children and hubby, instead of being shackled to the stove to make that perfect dinner.
Voila! The pressure cooker appeared on the scene, promising Mom the leisure time she and her family deserved. Now, dinner could be cooked in just one pot that did not have to be watched with a wary eye on the clock.
As time marched forward, the pressure cooker improved year by year. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, life styles tended to “hang loose” and subscribed to the philosophy of “doing your own thing.” Nobody wanted to be stuck at home, spending many hours at the stove, when they could be out and around. Women had a newfound freedom to take a job away from the house. With the advent of the SLOW COOKER came the opportunity for Mom to assemble the ingredients for dinner, place them in the slow cooker, and drive off to work without worry about dinner. Just one thing less to juggle into your daily schedule. After leaving the food to cook all day in the slow cooker, all Mom had to do when she came home was to set the table (better yet, have the kids do it), call the family to dinner, and sit down with her family, making dinner a quality time experience.
Along came late 1970, and with it came Rival Industries’ acquisition of another company which made a small kitchen appliance called the “Beanery.” This cooking device, in reality a basic bean cooker, was made of white steel, with a glazed brown crock liner, and an aluminum lid.
With experimentation, cooks and chefs determined that the small bean cooker cooked meat better than it did beans. And there bloomed a cheerful relationship between man and machine.
The initial slow cooker from Rival was called the CROCK POT®; because of trademark considerations, only a slow cooker made by Rival was entitled to be called a Crock Pot®. The name Crock Pot® has become so familiar to the American public, many people do not realize that Crock Pot® is not a generic name for all slow cookers. Along the same lines, unless it is a product of Kimberly-Clark, a facial tissue is not a piece of Kleenex®. Not all adhesive bandages are Band-Aids®. That wiggly, translucent gelatin dessert is not necessarily Jell-O®. In the playroom, those small plastic building bricks, deadly to an unshod foot (ouch!), may or may not be Legos®. And, the malleable, multicolored pseudo-clay that children adore, can be homemade or from a can of Play-Doh® from Hasbro.
What Exactly is a Slow Cooker and How Does it Work?
The components of a slow cooker include a round or oval pot of ceramic material, a thermostatically regulated heating element surrounded by a metal housing, and a transparent lid allowing the crock’s contents to be seen without the need to lift the lid and thus losing valuable steam. The ceramic pot does double duty as a cooking container, as well as acting as a heat reservoir. Available in a range of sizes, the capacity of a slow cooker can be as small as 16 oz. and as large as 6 quarts.
The heating element of a slow cooker is on the bottom. Because of the increased heat at the bottom of the crock, it may be occasionally necessary to stir the contents to prevent sticking to the bottom. Generally, the slow cooker has a thermostat that allows a range of cooking temperatures.
The Crock Pot® has its heating element, found around the side of the crock, in a housing made of plastic or an alloy with an aluminum liner. It usually has a crockery insert, also known as the crock. Since the entire Crock Pot® cannot be submerged in water for cleanup, the crock is usually removable for easy washing. The Crock Pot® usually has two heat settings,
high and low.
Both the Crock Pot® and slow cooker work on rather simple principles. Food and a liquid that is mostly water (water, wine, stock, but not oil with water) are put into the crock. Next, put on the lid and switch on the cooker. The heating element, along with the thermostat, will cause the contents of the crockery pot to rise up to a steady cooking temperature of 175º – 200º F (80º – 95º C). Because the lid is non-hermetic (non-sealing), the cooking temperature can never rise above the boiling point of water, as the lid prevents the build up of pressure. Since the low temperature will not allow much production of vapor, the inside of the crock lid gets surrounded by condensed vapor, and the rate of evaporation remains very low. The condensed vapor falls back into the crock, allowing the contents to remain hydrated.
The heat from the pot wall is delivered to the food by means of heat transfer through the liquid in the pot. The lid must remain closed, for every time it is lifted, it will necessitate prolonging the cooking time because of heat loss.
When loading the slow cooker or Crock Pot®, remember to first put your cut-up vegetables in a layer on the bottom and next, along the sides of the pot. Add your meat last. When my husband makes his beef and veggie special in our Crock Pot®, he always sets aside enough vegetables to make a layer atop the meat. That might not be exactly following the “rules” to a T, but they taste mighty fine distributed that way.
What you can cook in a Crock Pot® is only limited by your imagination. Have fun creating a “Mystery Meal for your family to decipher. No matter what foods you put in your slow cooker, there really is no way to make a bad meal.
Look for your inner culinary adventurer and go out there and create.