Cookbook author first to decipher the Crock-Pot

By Valerie J. Nelson
Monday, March 1, 2010; B04

Food stylist and home economist Mable Hoffman had been married a good 30 years when a wedding gift caused her career to take an aromatic detour.

The recipients of that early 1970s present -- a Crock-Pot -- were newlyweds unsure of what to do with the just-invented electric slow-cooker. But the husband's family owned a publishing company, and he proposed a cookbook featuring the appliance.

The job of developing the recipes and writing the pioneering book went to Mrs. Hoffman, whose test kitchen amounted to 20 slow-cookers lined up in her Solana Beach, Calif., home. The resulting "Crockery Cookery" (1975) was an instant bestseller.

It was "the right book" at "the right moment," The New York Times declared in 1976, adding that 20 million Americans who had bought slow-cookers "were eager for tips."

Mrs. Hoffman, who had Alzheimer's disease, died Feb. 9 at an assisted living facility in Del Mar, Calif., of complications from a seizure and pneumonia, said Jan Robertson, her daughter. She was 88.

The initial infatuation with such slow-cooker recipes as her simple "Round Steak With Rich Gravy" or "Mission Chicken" (with grapes and topped with slivered almonds) would wax and wane. Yet the shift in American culture that first helped popularize the gadget -- the rise of the working woman -- also secured its future on kitchen countertops.

"The craze from 20 years ago had died down a bit, but a whole new generation with jobs and children are finding that this very handy appliance can have dinner ready when you come home from work," Mrs. Hoffman said in 1996 after she had updated "Crockery Cookery." The revisions reflected changing tastes and times. Alongside such slow-cooker standbys as beef stew and pot roast were more pasta-based meals, ethnic-influenced offerings including Thai chicken and reduced-fat dishes.

She thought critics who dismissed the slow-cooker because it had a tendency to make everything taste kind of the same "had somewhat of a valid point," her daughter Jan said. In later crockery books, Mrs. Hoffman tried to emphasize adding herbs or another ingredient at the end of several hours of cooking to "brighten" the dish.

A prolific and award-winning cookbook writer, Mrs. Hoffman published 18 cookbooks over 25 years, working with her husband, Gar, and daughter. Only a third were dedicated to the slow cooker, and two books emphasized speed -- "Cookies in Minutes" (1993) and "Pasta in Minutes" (1994).

She was born Mable Simpson on July 26, 1921, in Buckingham County, Va., to Henry and Nell Simpson. While at the University of Maryland, she became aware of regional differences in food. After receiving a bachelor's degree in home economics, Mrs. Hoffman prepared food marketing reports for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the late 1940s, she moved to Los Angeles and became a recipe developer and consultant for Sunkist Growers. Several years later, she established a consulting business, serving as a food stylist for Better Homes and Gardens magazine. She also worked with Hunt Foods and other companies. After moving to San Diego in 1971, she started building a collection of slow-cookers so large that she eventually lost count of how many she owned.

Gar, her husband of 52 years, died in 1993.

Besides her daughter Jan, of Encinitas, Calif., Mrs. Hoffman is survived by another daughter, Linda, of Cape Coral, Fla.; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Los Angeles Times

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