Monday, March 8, 2021

What a Crock

The history of crockpots goes back further than most people think. The concept can be traced at least as far back as the late 19th century in Vilnius, Lithuania, specifically the Jewish neighborhood of Vilna. Before the start of the Sabbath, observant Jews would bring ceramic crocks full of a bean stew called cholent to the local bakery, where the crocks would be placed in the cooling bread ovens to cook slowly overnight from the residual heat. By the next day the cholent would be cooked and ready to eat, providing them their only hot meal until the end of Sabbath at sunset. This is similar in concept to a Dutch Oven, but crocks would cook for 10-14 hours, usually at a low heat.

Irving Nachumsohn, a Russian Jew born in New Jersey in 1902, knew of this tradition and came up with an electric version of the traditional crock for home use: a base unit with a rheostat-controlled electric heating coil that wrapped around a heavy ceramic crock. He received a patent for his design in 1940 and brought it to market ten years later as the Naxon Beanery. Although commercially available for 20 years, the Naxon Beanery didn’t have much impact on the market until Nachumsohn retired in 1970 and sold his business to Kansas City-based Rival Manufacturing Company. After revamping the look and giving it a catchy new name, the Crock Pot was unveiled at the 1971 Chicago National Housewares Show. The rest, as they say, is history.

Modern crock pots (also called slow cookers) can be computerized marvels or as simple as the early 1970s version. In recent years, a combination crock pot/pressure cooker called the Instant Pot has gained popularity. On a basic version, temperature control is by a rotating dial with three positions: off, low, and high. Newer models add a fourth setting, warm. The fancier types may have a digital control panel with options for temperature and time settings.

Porkchop and sauerkraut dinner in the crock pot

One of the most important considerations when choosing a crockpot is a removable crock. This makes everything from serving to cleaning easier. Thankfully, nearly every crockpot currently on the market has this feature, but be aware that older versions may not if you’re picking one up at a yard sale or thrift shop.

One thing I’ve found that helps immeasurably with cleanup is spraying the inside of the crock with non-stick spray. There are commercially available plastic crock pot liners for a similar purpose, but I don’t care for the idea of cooking in plastic, so I haven’t used them.

Post-cooking care of a crock pot is quite simple, especially if the crock is removable. The most important thing to remember is never immerse the base unit in water; instead, wipe down the outside of the base unit with a damp sponge without getting it too wet. The crock itself can be washed as with any other ceramic dish, generally including in a dishwasher.

Just having a crock pot isn’t enough, though; recipes optimized for this cooking method are needed. I have an old, fragile copy of the original pamphlet that came with the 1970s Rival model, which was an exciting yard sale find. I also have a variety of more modern crockpot and slow cooker cookbooks, among which are: Rival Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Cuisine; the Easy Slow Cooker Cookbook; the Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook; and Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Cookbook. Doing a web search for “crock pot recipes” will also provide many additional resources.

An early Rival Crock-Pot recipe booklet

I’ve amassed something of a collection of crockpots over the years. From my grandmother’s original Rival (in vintage 1970s burnt orange) to a couple of newer ones and a smaller yard sale find, all made by the Rival spin off company, Crock-Pot.

The author's crock pot collection (so far)

Crock pots come in all different sizes and with a wide array of features. They are just as useful for a single person who looks forward to a hot meal when they get home from work as for a large family who appreciates the hands off aspect. 

If you don’t already have one (or more) crock pots, maybe it’s something you should consider adding to your kitchen armory. If you already own a crock pot and enjoy using it, as an unofficial representative of the Jewish people I would like to say, "You’re welcome."


  1. We swear BY ours and...he...have about four of the silly things.

  2. Makes cooking so much easier when you also have to deal with a full time job.


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