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A Brief History of the Crock-Pot

When Leeann Wallett reflects on happy days from her childhood, she thinks of New Year’s Eve. Each year, Wallett’s mother would whip up an impressive spread of 1970s-style appetizers. “My mom was never a huge cook,” Wallett recalls, “but when she did cook, it was spectacular.”

The centerpiece of these meals was a miniature Crock Pot called the Crockette, which kept food hot from dinner until the clock struck midnight. The recipes varied from year to year—sometimes tangy-sweet meatballs mixed with pineapple, sometimes cocktail weiners jazzed up with cherry pie filling—but all still strike a deep chord of nostalgia for Wallett, who grew up to become an avid home cook and, in her spare time, a food writer for local and regional outlets in her home state of Delaware.

These memories took on new significance when Wallett’s mother passed away in 2008. The Crockette went into storage for a few years, but eventually, it found its way back into her kitchen. Today, she uses the little Crock Pot to serve warm artichoke dip during football games, and to keep her mother’s memory alive.

Nearly 80 years after its patent was issued, the Crock Pot continues to occupy a warm place in American kitchens and hearts. For Paula Johnson, curator for the Division of Work & Industry at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., the Crock Pot’s ubiquity lends to its charm. When Johnson returns to family potlucks in her own Minnesota hometown, she can count on seeing a long, buffet line of Crock Pots.

“The idea of being able to produce something quickly and without a lot of mess, either prep or clean up, is a time-honored tradition,” Johnson says.

The Crock Pot’s story began during the 19th century in Vilna, a Jewish neighborhood in the city of Vilnius, Lithuania. Once known as the "Jerusalem of the North," Vilna attracted a thriving community of writers and academics. There, Jewish families anticipated the Sabbath by preparing a stew of meat, beans and vegetables on Fridays before nightfall. Ingredients in place, people took their crocks to their towns’ bakeries—specifically, to the still-hot ovens that would slowly cool overnight. By morning, the low-and-slow residual heat would result in a stew known as cholent.

Read entire article at Smithsonian Magazine Online