Thursday, January 12, 2017

From crockpot to cracked pot

Funny what strikes that sentimental spot in the heart. I've been thinking about my parents a lot lately, and mulling over the words for a post, but something else, equally sentimental, jumped queue.  Of all things, it is a crock pot that is pulling at my heartstrings.

When I moved out of the dorm, during my University years, my mother gifted me with a crock pot. (For the uninitiated, a slow cooker, that essentially let you heap lots of stuff into its maw, turn it on, and let it cook all day.) Yes, you can do the same thing with an oven, but this had the air of convenience about it. In essence, it was an electric bean cooker, that clever cogs over at Rival turned on to those of us who didn't have bean pots simmering on the back of our stoves. I used mine for stews, small roasts and fowl, and glorious soups. I still have that crockpot-- it's up at the cabin, with an ill-fitting lid from the days when I was at MUSC Children's and our division would do fundraisers which involved a lot of chili, hot dogs, and other sundry food items. (Somewhere out there, one of the other pediatric nurses has a crock pot with an ill fitting lid, because she got mine, instead.) I loved the meals that pot made, but honestly, it was a pain to clean. When my mother moved in with us, and brought her newer crock pot, with a removable crock lining, I switched loyalties and never looked back.

Mama's crock pot cooked up some great meals for us. I can't speak to what it did prior to 1988, when we all moved into a home together, but from that point on, that crockpot and I earned a heap of praise. (A token of how much I preferred it, is that it never had to make the trek to the MUSC Maternal-Child  Nursing lunches mentioned above. Little red was expendable once my mother's crock pot came into our lives.)

I used it weekly now, especially with just the two of us here at home. I can take a whole chicken from  the butcher, to roasted, to stew, and then use the bones for bone broth, all with the same kitchen helper. And the "set it and forget it" mode has always appealed to me, especially when I've had a day full of medical visits and appointments, and then walk into a home filled with the aroma of something roasting in the crock pot.

But a few days ago, as I cleaned the crock (as opposed to cleaning someone's clock) I noticed that after 35 years, there's a crack forming in the bottom of the crock. And, sadly, it goes clear through, though nothing has leaked yet. But, it's not long, I fear. Plus, I worry about the integrity of the crock and if whatever's under the glaze might not be safe if the glaze isn't intact.(There was a "Lead in slow cookers!" scare a few years back.)

Today, I retired my mother's crock pot. I did a lot of looking for a replacement, and while there are ones out there with bells, whistles, timers, and all sorts of extras. I'm not taking it tailgating, or serving dips or meatballs from it at parties. I didn't need handles, or vacuum sealed, or a carrying case. I didn't need a special slot to slip a meat thermometer.  No temperature control or timed settings.. I just wanted simple-- and a removable crock for cleaning.

Most places I checked locally (before resorting to Amazon or big box stores) only had the fancy ones. But I found my simple little crock pot, on/off with a few stops in between, and a removable liner. The woman who helped me at the store was delighted in my choice. She and I each showered praise on the simple crock pot, sharing recipes and memories (we'd each cared for our mother, each had one son, each worked full days which were often rescued by coming home and smelling the fragrance from the pot we'd set to cooking before we left for work.) Sure this one is a little 2017-- it's got a stainless exterior, but it's the innards that hold the real beauty. I'll put it through its paces this weekend. Prepare for some good smells and good eating... and a toast to my mother.


  1. Crock pot liners! They're like over-sized plastic bags designed to tolerate the heat in the crock pot. Even with a removable crock, the liners make clean-up so much easier. And if I cook and have copious leftovers too hot to package for the freezer, I can lift the bag out of the crock and set it inside a mixing bowl and refrigerate the whole thing until it cools down. And when you're dishing up your cooled leftovers into little packages for freezing, you can tilt the bag and pour the last of the liquid into the container.

    At the store, they're usually sold in a four-pack for $3 or so. They're in the section with Zip-Locs and Reynolds Wrap (and usually on the bottom shelf). But watch what you're getting: there are "Oven Bags" designed to hold stuff like a chicken in the oven, and there are "Slow Cooker Bags" for the crock pot, and the packaging looks very similar.

    My first crock pot was my mother's old Rival from the 70s. It was a 3.5 quart, and too small for many recipes. Also, it had a fixed crock. And a bad lid. (Mother broke the original lid and picked up a substitute at a garage sale.) I've passed that on to my niece-in-law: she and Thomas often have church youth group events at their house, and this gives an extra holder for chili or stew or to keep things warm for big dinners.

    My new crock pot has a removable crock and is big enough for an entire chicken--should I ever got so brave. But it's made some good chili and some really good soup.

  2. I thought about those, but given how much we use the crockpot, after 3 purchases I'd be ahead since the new crockpot I was looking at was originally $19.99 but on sale for $15 and change. I've found, with the removable crock, that spraying it with cooking spray (just like I would a roasting pan) helps enormously in cleanup (though for my weekly stock/broth I don't need that.) I do use freezer bags to package up leftovers into appropriate sized portions, though.

    I kinda wish I'd thought it through more, though, for the sentimental value, but it's okay.