February 27, 2009

CROCK CHIC:

Slow cookers have evolved over the decades: Crock-Pots of the '70s have given way to sleeker, more versatile models and recipes go way beyond soups and stews. (Noelle Carter, February 25, 2009, LA Times)

It all started with the Crock-Pot. Rival introduced the slow cooker to the market with the Crock-Pot brand in 1971. Almost overnight, the Crock-Pot enjoyed a popularity matched only by the fondue pot and defined a certain kind of culinary "chic" for the decade.

It "cooks all day while the cook's away," one 1976 advertisement declared. The Crock-Pot promised complete meals, cooked slowly over long periods of time, costing mere pennies to operate and requiring little, if any, supervision. Rival posted Crock-Pot sales of $2 million its first year on the market, and sales peaked at $93 million after just four years. Inevitably, it wasn't long before competitors jumped on the bandwagon and flooded the market. By the end of the 1970s, sales of slow cookers, including the Crock-Pot, decreased dramatically.

Of course, the slow cooker also had its detractors -- and most complaints were about the food. Many thought everything tasted the same no matter what was in the pot. Others claimed the food dried out despite the closed cooking environment (the lid should prevent moisture from escaping). Some complained about the lack of flavor, others about the lack of visual appeal. Still others said the slow cooker just made mush.

Andrew Schloss, author of the new "Art of the Slow Cooker: 80 Exciting New Recipes," says quality wasn't really a consideration with many of the early recipes. "Earlier recipes were so much about convenience that a lot of the food wasn't that good. Convenience started to trump quality."

People liked the convenience of the slow cooker, they just didn't necessarily like what had been cooked in them. Recipes began to evolve -- slowly -- as interest in the slow cooker grew once again over the last several years. And the cookers evolved too, with manufacturers offering different sizes and inserts (some that allow for conventional stove-top cooking) as well as offering programmable timers, "smart" settings and digital probes. Slow cookers improved cosmetically too.

Today, about 83% of American households own a slow cooker, according to the NPD Group, a leading marketing research firm. Of these households, almost half used a slow cooker within the past month.

Stephanie O'Dea blogged about using her slow cooker every day last year. Also known as the "Crockpot Lady," her adventures (crockpot365.blogspot.com) were a hit, landing her a spot on the "Rachael Ray" show and spawning a cookbook, due out this fall.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2009 5:33 PM
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