Monday, February 4, 2008

Hey Look, A Hay Box!

Before there were slow cookers, there was the hay box. The directions are from the British edition of Good Housekeeping's Home Encyclopedia (1951).

Take a strong wooden or tin box with a lid or an old trunk, and line it with clean newspaper. Then you have to line the newspaper with clean felt or an old blanket (I'd have given up by now I think!). You line the lid in exactly the same way. Then fill the box with - hay, duh. The hay has to come within 4 inches of the top of the box. In order to make a nest for the cooking pot, you then have to fill up a pan with boiling water and stick it in the hay (having first made a cushion of hay right under where the pot will be) and leave in it there for several hours.

Now you are ready to roll with the slow-cooking meal! Wait, don't go away, the fun's just beginning. As the Good Housekeeping book says, enticingly, "the object is to enable food to be cooked slowly without requiring constant attention." So what you do now is cook up some food like a stew orsome root vegetables, and then put the covered pot in the hay box for a few hours. And then when you come back it'll be all ready, right?

Well, sort of. Because the food - get this - has to be reheated anyway when you take it out of the hay box. It doesn't really even save you any time, says the book, since you have to bring the food to a boil before you serve it up.

And the point of the hay box is - is what, Good Housekeeping gurus of 1951? A fun craft for the lady of leisure on the days she isn't using the washing machine with the mangle on it (that sure looks like a good time). Or when she isn't scrubbing the upholstery or cleaning the wallpaper or making "Poor Man's Goose" (that would be liver and potatoes, glad you asked).

Maybe the hay box was for when you wanted to transport the food, like a giant wooden box-shaped Thermos. Though that does seem like it would be awkward.

I like the hay box for its sheer nuttiness though.


Anonymous said...

Hey, what a crock! Or hay a crock pot!

Shay said...

Hayboxes originally appeared as the late 19th century and were the equivalent of a Crockpot.

Particularly useful if you were preparing typical pre WWI meals in a boiling hot kitchen in, say, July.

Somewhere in one of my old women's magazines I have an entire menu cooked in the hayboxl, sometime in the 'teens. I'll have to go look for it.