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Slow Cooking: Slowing Down While Keeping Up


Happy Advent, dear readers. Whatever December holds for you, I trust that this month’s blog will inspire you with warming ideas for winter.

The last couple of years, I’ve reflected on Advent and Christmas in a few different ways. Customs of Advent can be seen as a model for nutritional therapy, or even a spur to try some careful fasting.

I’ve considered the amazing nutritional benefits of the traditional Christmas dinner, and offered some ideas for how to weather Christmas well.

This year, noticing how much I’ve been making ‘slow food’ as the days become chillier, I thought I’d cover some stories, history, books and ideas for slow cooking.

Slow cooking can be a wonderfully affordable, nutritious and comforting way to cook at this time of year, while also helping to create space for holiday and time off.

Cooking restfully

A lovely fact about the history of slow cooking, is that today’s electric slow-cooker was invented for taking rest. A Jewish American man called Irving Naxon was inspired by how his mother’s Eastern European family cooked stews for their Sabbath day of rest.

Cooking was forbidden on the Sabbath, because it was considered work. So they would take a pot of raw beans to their nearby bakery the day before, just as the ovens were being turned off. In the residual heat, the stew would heat through slowly, finally becoming ready in time for Saturday evening.

Naxon marketed his design for an electric slow cooker in the 1950s and it sold well. It became particularly popular in the USA and the UK 1970s, when it was advertised to busy working women.

At this point, however, the slow cooker became known for throwing-food-in-and-going-to-work, rather than creating a good meal. Which perhaps explains why it has had something of a low reputation ever since.

Of course, slow-cooking is as old as fire itself, and we have always known that gentle heating is best for certain foods. But if, like me, you don’t already have an old-fashioned stove or Aga installed, the humble slow cooker is a fantastic alternative, bringing delicious fragrances to the whole kitchen. And if the Christmas sales are to be believed, the humble slow cooker may be making a bit of a comeback.


Slow cookers cost anywhere from about £15 upwards. You place all your ingredients into a deep ceramic dish which then warms up over a plugged-in electric plate. Rather than roast or boil quickly on high heat, its gentle simmering action completes the process overnight or during the day, over 7 or 8 hours. With little or no evaporation, it’s quite hard to burn food, and on the whole, a stew will happily stay warm for an extra hour or two without spoiling. If you find a slow cooker with a timer, you can even fill it in the evening and set it to come on in the middle of the night. This can provide a delicious porridge or healthy cake in the morning, filling the house with the smell of spices.

But perhaps the most practical aspect of all is how inexpensive slow cookers are to run: famously, they cost about the same as a lightbulb!

Nutritional benefits of slow cooking

There are of course many nutritional reasons why you might like to try slow cooking.

One important aspect is that low heat means fewer nutrients lost. Also, nutrients don’t get thrown away since – unlike steaming, say – the cooking liquids are preserved. (However – vegetables have to be cut to the right size, so that they don’t over- or under-cook. Too large, and they’ll take longer than the meat; too small, and they’ll taste over-done.)

Another factor is digestibility. If you slow-cook meat or beans, the long and gradual process very effectively breaks down the fibres and proteins that could otherwise be hard to cope with in the gut.

Something many people don’t consider is the value of cheap vegetables, which aren’t always tasty when they’re raw or cooked quickly. For example, a swede has fantastic nutritional value (containing vitamin B6, calcium, vitamin C and magnesium), but it’s likely to work better in a stew than a stir-fry!

We may avoid cheap cuts of meat because they can be tougher, with high bone, fat and gristle content. However, in a slow-cooker, these cuts can be used with confidence because 8 hours on ‘low’ turns them soft and tender.

On top of this is an important irony: it is actually these very ‘cheap’ elements in cheap meat – the bone, the fat and the gristle – which, when cooked, add to both the digestibility and the nutritional value of the meal. (And I would say here, as I have before, that it is well worth buying organic meat.)

Offal is becoming more popular as people rediscover its health benefits. The remarkable nutritional content of liver and kidneys – such as vitamins A, B12, D, E and K – is often made more palatable by slow, tenderising cooking. I try to eat liver every other week or so, making a chicken liver paté, or adding calves liver to chicken soup. There is a useful set of recipes in Sarah Wilson’s slow-cooker e-book for those feeling adventurous!

Other benefits to the cook

What I particularly enjoy about slow cookers is their ability to combine flavours. Over a long cooking time, spices and juices will infuse together beautifully.

On top of this, you can create an entire meal in one pot. This reduces fuss in all sorts of ways. I’ve heard of one parent who prepares for school term by buying all the family’s food in bulk – and has each of her children put the ingredients for an entire slow-cooker meal into a freezer bag – meat, vegetables, herbs, and everything. They do this for all the meals in the term. Then each morning, a different child takes charge of putting their ingredients into the slow cooker for eating that night.

Here is a excellent website with ideas on how to make freeze-ahead slow-cooker meals, together with lots of recipes:

The wonderful benefits of stock, or ‘bone broth’, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts can also be gained via the slow cooker. You simply put meat bones (and ideally some herbs) from supper into the pot, fill it up with water, and leave on overnight. Next morning you’ll have stock, which in winter can then cool on the countertop for the day, before being ladled into freezer containers that night. This is perfect, of course, for post-turkey stock-making.

And another thing I discovered, while researching this post: you can even make your own organic yoghurt in a slow cooker. Something to add to my ‘kefir vs yoghurt’ debate last month!

Books for slow cooks

Finally, some of you may be wondering how to make the most of your slow cookers. It isn’t always easy to convert ordinary recipes to slow cooker recipes, because of the difference in liquid content.

My top favourite book is this one, by Sara Lewis, which I currently use at home.

If you’re looking for a celebrity approach, Nigella’s ‘Simply Nigella’ book has some slow recipes.

Two brilliant new books out this year are Hugh Acheson’s retro-looking chef’s recipe book just for slow cooking, and Sarah DiGregorio’s similarly cheffy Adventures in Slow Cooking. Both contain some delicious-looking dishes, together with interesting ideas for things you hadn’t thought of in slow cookers, like puddings, drinks and even preparing dried legumes.

Slowing down

Even if it might not be possible to slow down much over the holidays ahead, I hope that tidings of true comfort and joy will still slip over your horizon over the coming weeks. I hope that at some point this Christmas and New Year, there will be a moment – even just a minute or two somewhere – in which you’ll feel restored, rested and comforted.

Happy Christmas, and here’s to a peaceful, joyful New Year ahead.

Best wishes from Emma

Emma Maitland-Carew, Nutritional Therapist in Oxford and Bloxham, Oxfordshire


Daniel, K., 2003. Why Broth is Beautiful: Essential Roles for Proline, Glycine and Gelatin. Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts.

Margolin, V., 2015. World History of Design. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Symons, M., 2003. A History of Cooks and Cooking. University of Illinois Press.

Walker, H., 1996. Cooks & Other People: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1995. Oxford Symposium.

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