Many homes now have a slow cooker.  These are great kitchen gadgets which can be filled and switched on in the morning so that when you arrive home in the evening your food is ready and waiting for you with very little effort. They are great for all kinds of meals including stews, soups and curries. Busy people will love having these great gadgets to hand and they are the perfect antidote to our modern fast food culture.

The Hay Box

The same concept has been in use for many years in the form of the hay box.  This is a box which has been filled with hay.  This is a material which has great insulating properties so if a heated dish is placed within it, the heat is retained and the food inside will continue to cook. For householders this is a great energy saver as there is no need to keep it in the oven.  Loss of heat is reduced to a minimum by the hay box.  These were a popular choice before kitchens had electricity and these are now returning to popularity as people try out self-sufficiency and aim to cut back on their energy bills.    

The slow-cooker as an Electric Hay Box

The principles of the hay box have been transferred to the slow cooker.  These are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be bought for very reasonable prices.   The slow-cooker will use a very small amount of heat to cook the contents and as everything in it cooks slowly, even the cheapest cuts of meat cook very well.  This means that a great deal of money can be saved when preparing meals such as casseroles.    

One of the main advantages of using a slow cooker is that it does not need constant attention.  Those who cook soups and stews on the hob will find that they cannot be left for a long period of time, but there is no danger that the pot will boil over thanks to the gentle heat used.   The cookers range in size from a small version suitable for a person living alone to much larger versions which are designed to feed families of 4-6 people or even more.

What Can You Cook in It?

The variety of recipes that can be tackled with a slow cooker is also a great advantage. Meat can be roasted in it at a fraction of the cost of using the oven. Not everyone eats meat though; the slow-cooker can also be used for a variety of vegetarian dishes such as lentil dishes.  Pulses should be prepared in advance as for standard cooking.   In addition, those who want to make jam will find that the slow cooker is a godsend.  The fruit will cook slowly without sticking and burning.

It is the perfect option for those who want to eat more healthy dishes.  Anyone who has a busy lifestyle is more likely to reach for unhealthy ready meals and takeaways, but with delicious home cooked food just ready and waiting when you arrive home, this is less likely to happen.  Anyone who needs to be out at work all day will appreciate not having to spend an hour or so preparing an evening meal.  The ingredients can simply be placed in the cooker earlier in the day and left to cook slowly. 

In the US, the slow-cooker found fame in the early 1970s as the ‘crock pot’; these exploded in popularity as more women began going out to work each day rather than staying at home to raise a family.

With today's energy prices slow cookers are coming out of the cupboard and are being used again.