Publishers seem to publish more crock pot cookbooks every year; Amazon lists several hundred of them. According to Consumer Reports, sales of slow cookers rose to 9.4 million units in 2008 from 8.9 million in 2007, and marketing research firm NPD Group reports that about 83% of American households own one of the appliances. But despite slow cookers’ increased popularity, highbrow food publications like Gourmet and Saveur aren’t running stories about slow cookers and the wonderful meals you can make in them. Says Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editor Rux Martin, “I don’t want to sound like a snob, but the usual kind of crock pot cooking is not the kind of thing that serious cooks would have company over for.” However, two cookbooks slated for publication early next year suggest those attitudes may be changing.
Martin, who received a Rival crock pot from her mother “20 or 30 years ago,” is the editor of The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone (January 2010). When she received the proposal from Scicolone, an established food writer and author of the Sopranos Family Cookbook, she dug out her little-used crock pot and tried the book’s recipe for Chunky Pork Shoulder Ragu. “It was magnificent,” she says. Martin and Scicolone both point out that Italian cooking lends itself to slow cookers: ingredient lists are fairly short and consist of reasonably common foods, and typical Italian dishes—Bolognese-style meat ragus; hearty vegetable soups; beans in garlic and herbs—cook best when they’re simmered slowly.
In March, Ten Speed will release Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World by Lynn Alley. The author also wrote The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World (Ten Speed, 2004). The book features 55 recipes from Indian, Mexican, Southwestern, Italian, French, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine, and comes from a house that has published high-end restaurant books by chefs like Grant Achatz.
These sophisticated tomes will go up against a few stalwarts. Good Books’ Fix-It and Forget-It series is the country’s bestselling crock pot cookbook series. The six books in the series compile edited versions of recipes contributed from everyday cooks and have sold some nine million copies. Next year marks the series' 10th anniversary. Another bestselling series is Harvard Common Press’s Not Your Mother’s series, which has sold 750,000 copies. Most of the books in the series are slow cooker books written by Beth Hensberger: Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook; Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Entertaining; Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two; and this fall’s Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Family Favorites.
And there are other slow cooker books pubbing this fall and winter. In October, Wiley will release Semi-Homemade Money-Saving Slow-Cooking: 129 Quick-to-Cook Meals by Sandra Lee; and Hyperion will publish Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking by Stephanie O’Dea, who recently spent a year blogging about her experiences cooking with her crock pot.
Still, despite the continued surge in slow cooker cookbooks, a stigma remains. Scicolone writes, “Before I got my first [slow cooker] model, I had occasionally heard complaints that slow cooker food was bland or that it all tasted the same.” Martin says crock pots “still have the reputation” of being best for feed-a-crowd-type dishes like chili, or dishes made with unsophisticated ingredients and cheap meats. But, she says, “It’s a tiny fraction of a hop from the chili to the long-simmered ragu.” And as Mark Bittman wrote in the New York Times earlier this year, “Go ahead and sneer. I love my slow cooker.”
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.