Who Remembers Hay-Box Cookery?

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The wartime 'Slow Cooker'

Recently found an old school textbook from my mother (born 1929) for her Domestic Science classes at Secondary School during WWII.

There's tons of interesting stuff in it - not just cooking, but how to clean a house, how to care for the sick with poultice's etc, and even how to groom yourself and personal hygiene.  (In this section, for instance, the book says hot baths can have a bad effect on the heart, and that "hair should not require washing more than once in three weeks").

By far the largest section, however, is on cookery, and the section on Hay Box cookery caught my eye.

It says you need a good-sized box (wooden in those days, not cardboard) lined with newspaper, with "a layer of stout brown paper tacked over to keep the box neat".  Then tightly pack the box with hay to within 3 inches of the top, leaving a 'nest' in the middle into which you put the pan of food to be cooked.  A thick cushion packed with hay should be made to put on top of the pan in the box.

First you boil the pan full of food on your hob or range, and then place it (with lid on) in the hay nest.  Put the cushion on top and shut the box.  Do not open the box again until the allotted cooking time has elapsed.

A rule of thumb was that things took about three times as long to cook in the hay box.  This made it great for doing things like porridge or stews overnight, or soups during the day ready for the evening meal.

The advantages of hay-box cookery - says the book - are that no fuel is wasted (an important consideration in wartime), no attention is needed while food is cooking in the box, nothing can be overcooked (!?), and no nourishment or flavour is lost.

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