Three weeks ago, Mark and I were walking downtown on Saturday morning, headed to the Farmer’s Market and the library, discussing whether or not to buy a pretzel (leaning towards yes), when he spotted a cheery orange object sitting on a stump next to a dumpster. This particular dumpster had been fruitful in the past, so we stopped. It was a pristine pumpkin orange crockpot with sketches of dancing veggies around the bottom. A vintage crockpot, complete with plastic lid. “Beef stew,” Mark muttered. “If it’s still there on the way home, I’m grabbing it.” It was and he did.
My family had a crockpot—ours was white and had a glass lid and dancing veggies—back in the mid-seventies when they were all the rage. The economy was tanking, oil prices were skyrocketing, and people were looking for cheap ways to eat hearty, comforting food. The crockpot was perfect—put the cheap stew beef and carrots in before you leave for work in the morning and have dinner waiting when you come home. My mother made stew and I made gallons of baked beans in it through one winter. Then things looked up, I went off to college, and it went to the back of the cabinet, hauled out once or twice a year for Swedish Meatballs at one of my mother’s parties. She left it in New Hampshire when she moved south. I didn’t want it.
So I was not as excited as Mark when he hauled this one home. He put it on the counter. The orange clashes with the red trim paint, I thought. It really needs some Harvest Gold appliances (which we had, in the same kitchen as the crockpot) to set it off. Then I remembered that I hated Avocado Green so much—the last of the triumvirate of colors—that I refused for fifteen years to try an actual avocado, because the color was so awful. Avocados did not exist in small town New Hampshire …All of this came back when I looked at that little crockpot. That and some really bad music…”Billy Don’t be a Hero,” “Seasons in the Sun,” and Neal Diamond singing “hands, touching hands, touching you, touching me”… and visions of my mother in a bar with friends, all of them touching hands and swaying to the piano man’s song.
But it was also kind of cheery…perky…pristine…and I remembered the time last winter we accidently left the lentils on the stove and went downtown, coming back hours later to amazingly yummy lentil soup because, really, lentils and split peas need to cook for three or four hours to taste good, not forty five minutes... I reached for the locally grown lentils sitting on the shelf, poured them in, chopped an onion, peeled a couple of garlic cloves from Sunbow, nipped two bay leaves off of my own bush, still damp from the rain, added some water…and turned it on. Soon, the house smelled amazing…onion and garlic and bay and beans in a warm, enveloping scent that promised security and lunch for days. After a few hours, I chopped carrots and celery and dumped in a can of tomatoes from last summer and some red wine…then left it on until dinnertime and ladled three quarts of soup into jars for the week. And, with that, the crockpot was established in the kitchen.
It does not live on the counter—the color and lack of room prevent it—but it lives nearby, in the larder, waiting to be hauled out on Saturday afternoon, filled with beans and veggies, and plugged in. And I think it is happy to be back, doing its designated job in the appliance universe, making hearty, comforting food in Hard Times…and I’ve caught myself humming a few old songs while I chop the carrots—although Neil Diamond is still banished from the house.