How This Ancient Stew Led to the Invention of the Slow Cooker

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How This Ancient Stew Led to the Invention of the Slow Cooker

Read on to learn more about cholent and its lasting impact on slow cooking.

Cholent became an optimal way to follow the rules of the Jewish Sabbath. Cholent can be prepared way before the sunset on Friday and stewed for a day at a low temperature. By the time the rich, beefy stew has cooked, it can be enjoyed after religious services on Saturday afternoon.

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According to Chabad.org, in the Second Temple Era (which begins around 353 B.C.), Jews known as the Sadducees misinterpreted the Torah, which said "You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath Day." The Sadducees thought this meant they could not burn fire on Shabbat. The Torah actually only prohibits creating a fire on Shabbat, but does not forbid one that has already been made.

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Food historian Gil Marks has explored cholent's journey through several countries over a thousand years. He explains, "The dish comes out of the Middle East, and then it spreads to North Africa, and by the 9th century, it's already found in Spain."

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Marks believes that Jews from Spain moved to Provence and brought cholent with them. The Spanish version was a lamb dish with fava beans and a spice like cumin.

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The word "cholent" actually comes from Eastern Europe. The most common version of the dish in America usually consists of beans, barley and a meat.

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The French interpretation of cholent omitted the cumin, since it didn't grow in France. Beef or goose replaced lamb as the staple meat in the dish.

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The Jewish dish wasn't embraced by all. Marks told NPR, "We do find a number of French sources from the Catholic church forbidding Christians from eating a long-cooked bean dish because it's Jewish."

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Marks claims that the traditional Southern French dish, cassoulet, originates from cholent.

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He also believes the seemingly American dish Boston baked beans was inspired by a Sephardic cholent. Sephardic Jews come from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East.

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According to Marks, the Jews even managed to influence Dutch cuisine! A dish called shachna could originate from cholent as well.

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Inventor Irving Naxon, inspired by his mother's tales of making cholent in Lithuania, wanted to think up a way to cook cholent with a slow heat. Naxon eventually came up with the Naxon Beanery, which became known as the Crock-Pot! The Crock-Pot is still used to make the Jewish stew.

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Thanks to Crock-Pots and other slow cookers, it's possible to come home to a fully-prepared (and hearty) dinner after a long day without having to whip out your cutting board and turn on the stove.

We owe the invention of slow cooker recipes in large part to a traditional Jewish stew called cholent. The rules of Jewish Sabbath forbid working from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, so those who hoped to observe the Sabbath had to come up with a clever way to cook without violating the rules -- which is where the beefy, bean-filled cholent came into play.

Check out the slideshow above to learn more about how cholent influenced slow cooking.

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