Cascade Observations: The simmer of memory

In college I wrestled intellectually with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Philosophy 101, but during all those sessions with my fellow students I never faced the philosophical quandary that perplexes me now. The question that haunts me is this: “Does a crock-pot have a soul?”

Thirty-two years ago, when Harvest Gold, Orange and Avocado were the de facto colors for kitchens, my husband and I received a crock-pot as a wedding gift from his sister and my brother. At first, it was just another appliance cluttering up the counter, albeit a lovely one, striped with the popular colors of the time, and lined with glazed orange ceramic.

We tried various recipes, but they often disappointed, as many recipes relied on canned goods dumped together in a slurry. After the requisite 6-10 hours in the pot, the concoction resembled something more likely to be seen in a compost pile than on the dinner table.

We loved the idea of a crock-pot (spend a few minutes in the morning before work preparing the evening meal, and be rewarded with a ready-to-eat hot steaming dinner after a hard day) but not the food itself.

We came to love and rely on the pot after receiving a recipe for a whole chicken from my mother. It was extremely easy to prepare, and delicious to eat. Additionally, the recipe took care of at least two meals.

On Day 1, we ate stewed chicken with egg noodles that reminded me of something a grandma would make for Sunday dinner. On Day 2, we shredded the remaining chicken, chopped up the leftover carrots, added onion and spices, and made delectable enchiladas. If there was any extra chicken left over, I made curried chicken salad with dried cranberries.

We fixed the chicken so often that I memorized the recipe. Cut up a large onion, two to three carrots, and two stalks of celery and place in the crock-pot. Remove and discard the giblets and neck from a whole chicken, and place the chicken, breasts side down, on top of the cut-up vegetables. Add a couple teaspoons of salt, black pepper, and herbs or spices of your choice. Pour a half-cup of white wine over the chicken, put on the lid, and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

When done, clean the chicken of skin and bones, strain the broth (saving it to make the enchilada sauce), and cook egg noodles.

Our kitchen is no longer decorated with red z-brick, dark brown cabinets and orange linoleum, and the crock-pot looks dated. We too have fallen out of fashion — if we ever were in it. Still, the old reliable pot has cooked over 200 chickens, problem-free.

That is, until two weeks ago. In the morning, I loaded up the vegetables, added the chicken, plugged in the pot and turned the dial to low. Eight hours later, when I returned home and lifted the lid of the pot, there sat a completely raw chicken. I checked the outlet and the breaker, which were operational. The beloved old pot had died while I was off at work.

So, back to the question I posed at the beginning of this column. Thirty-two years later, the crock pot is filled with memories, as are many other things we received as wedding gifts — the wooden salad bowl, blue roasting pan, flatware, and wicker picnic basket to name a few. The salad bowl has a crack, the roasting pan is no longer bright blue, and the stainless flatware is beginning to stain.

Yet each time I pull out the salad bowl I remember my vibrant friend Leslie, now crippled with MS. A woman I met in a hospital waiting area as we sat vigil outside her dying daughter’s room gave the roasting pan to us. My mother and father gave us the flatware. I think of them each night as I set the table. My in-laws, who loved to go on picnics, gave us the basket. Many a hot evening was spent with our toes dipped in Starvation Creek, savoring a lovely dinner packed in that basket.

The answer to my philosophical question is “Yes. Indeed.”

So what to do with a soulful crock-pot that has passed its prime? The garbage can doesn’t feel like an appropriate solution. Instead, I’ll probably do what my husband calls “Decycling.” Put it in the basement, and leave the decision for another day — but I’m open to other suggestions.

A nephew and a niece are both getting married this summer. I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking of wedding gifts for the two couples. My nephew and his fiancée are easy; they love to cook and eat as much as we do. Luckily, amidst the items on their registry is an iron skillet.

Perhaps no other pan has been as essential to our kitchen as our skillet, purchased at a church rummage sale when I was 18, and driven cross-country in a Chevrolet Vega when, at the age of 22, I followed the Oregon Trail to my new home in Hood River, where I met my husband.

My niece and her fiancé are a bit more difficult. I don’t know them as well, and they haven’t registered anywhere that I know of. Perhaps I’ll buy them an empty crock-pot, decorated in the latest colors and waiting to be filled with memories.

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