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Sept./Oct. 2012 – Ode to the Crock

Ode to the crock

An appliance for the people

The soul of our home and, by extension, the soul of the farm, is a beige appliance that sits on the kitchen counter. Our crock-pot feeds us when we are hungry and infuses the house with warm, welcoming smells. It has a singular role in making our house a home.

In appearance, the crock-pot looks like the Roman Coliseum in miniature—an upended tube—but capped with a glass top. Our family has come to rely on it so much that it is better understood as collective electric stomach. In the mornings, or at lunch, someone will toss in a few carrots, a bit of broth, a cut of meat, and plug it in. While we work, it cooks. All we need to do when we come home tired is serve up an inevitably delicious fare. Essentially, the crock does most of the digesting for us; we contentedly eat cud.

Unlike people, the crock never gets distracted by texts or emails; even if we were to get a call saying that all our sheep were on the runway at Victoria International Airport and there was a 747 of orphans circling overhead waiting to land, it would not waiver from its task. It does one thing, and it does it very, very well.

The crock is suited to the farm for several reasons, not the least of which is that is you can set up a meal in no time. As I said, we toss all sorts of things in. At one time, we trimmed the carrots, picked off the suspect mushy bits of veggies rescued from the bottom of the fridge but we have come to realize that such preening is unnecessary and in fact possibly detrimental to the outcome. These days, everything goes in. Start to finish; I can get a meal going in seven minutes. Efficiency alert: that means more time for farming.

The crock helps use the odd cuts of meat that customers don’t take, or that are for some reason unsalable. We once raised two beef cattle with the intention of selling some and putting the rest in our freezer. They were a Black Angus/Limousin cross which, I am told, is a windy mix anyway, but I am sure there was other devilry in their genetic confection, because these animals spent most of their time on the sprint, clearing chest-high fences as if they were sticks on the ground, dashing across roads in the middle of the night, never grazing, always panicked. The result: a lean, poor-tasting beef that had an oddly metallic flavour. Not only was it unsalable, it was nearly inedible.

Traumatized by the whole experience, I stashed the beef in a freezer for a year. Eventually guilt took hold, and we began to experiment with ways to eat the beef, now freezer-burned as well as plain bad. Cue the crock. Through trial, we developed ways to make the bad beef good, and thus avoided a disaster. Basically, the trick is to braise the hell out of a roast first, then cook it in dark beer for 24 hours.

A final comment: there’s something harmonious about the farm endeavor—of growing food for people—and the generous, use-everything, feed-everyone spirit of the crock. With its long, slow cooking time, and the ability to meld flavours, the crock is an expression of classic food socialism, a sort of CCF appliance. Try as I might, I cannot conjure an image of the Greatest Canadian, Tommy Douglas, fiddling with a $3,000 gas barbeque; yet I can easily envision him at a church function, serving generous portions from a steaming crock.