When Hervey Bay nurse and mother of three Paulene Christie started a slow cooker Facebook Group almost three years ago, she had no idea she was creating something that would change her life.
Paulene once viewed cooking as a necessary evil—something she did to feed her family. But that all changed when she got her first slow cooker.
She soon realised, as well as the more traditional dishes like soups and stews, the slow cooker was surprisingly versatile and could be used for lasagnas and desserts. Before she knew it the slow cooker had become a cherished kitchen appliance, saving her time and money.
Paulene started the Facebook Group Slow Cooker Recipes 4 Families in the hope of finding more slow cooker recipes. She’d visited other sites but could not find what she was looking for.
Since its launch in late 2012 the Facebook Group has grown beyond her wildest expectations. Membership currently stands at over 390,000 with members coming from all over the world.
Paulene credits the group’s success with the fact it’s 100 percent slow cooking. There are no jokes and memes. No ads and no non-cooking questions.
“Many people are already on Facebook a lot of the time—at home, at work, on transport and in waiting rooms. They see their friends sharing the recipes from our page so they visit to look for themselves. The Group numbers just keep multiplying and we currently add about 750 new members every day.”
Activity on the Facebook Group is constant, and sometimes frantic. Paulene now has a team of eight people who help monitor its activity. Members help each other, requesting advice and offering suggestions. It’s a very supportive environment and members feel comfortable sharing their failures as well as their successes.
“I love the sense of community we’ve developed,” said Paulene. “People feel at home there. Every day I see people discover or rediscover a passion for cooking and slow cooking.”
By mid 2014 the limitations of the Facebook Group became obvious and Paulene realised they needed a searchable database of recipes.
Unfortunately, with a family to support, Paulene didn’t have the money to invest in the creation of a professional website so a friend suggested she look at crowdfunding.
“I initially resisted as I didn’t think anyone would want to donate money and I worried I’d be criticised. But I was convinced to go ahead and let people decide for themselves.
“I was shocked. Within two weeks I had the $2000 I’d been quoted for the basic website. I was touched and humbled to receive such support.”
Although Paulene has invested far more in the site since its inception, she knows it would not have been possible without the support of her community. For that reason, she says, she’s committed to keeping the Slow Cooker Central website free to use.
Over 1650 recipes have now been uploaded onto the website. New recipes are added every day and the site receives over one million hits per month.
The Facebook Group continues to thrive, serving as a discussion forum—a platform Paulene intends to keep.
“A lot of people underestimate the time it takes from my life. I’m a busy mum of three children and I work shift work. I’m as time-poor as the next person. But on average I spend 6-8hrs a day working on the group or website. I’m up late at night and back online first thing the next day before I start my morning routine.”
In fact, slow cooking’s very much become a family affair in the Christie household.
“My husband Simon’s been great,” said Paulene. “Initially he’d just listen to me talk about it, but as it grew so did his interest and he’s taken on a bigger role. He’s the dedicated member-adding person for the Facebook Group and checks each request to ensure spammers and trolls are kept out of the group. He’s also become a keen recipe developer!”
Not only has Paulene’s love of slow cooking started a mini online revolution, it also means she’s now a published author.
“ABC Books approached me in late 2014 with the idea for a Slow Cooker Central cookbook. They set up a competition for members to submit their recipes and write a brief introduction to the recipe. Those selected not only saw their name and creation in print, but they received a free copy of the recipe book.”
Publication involved a grueling seven month process for Paulene and the editing team, but it was all worth it when the book was released in late May. It was so eagerly awaited by the slow cooking community it went straight to number one on the non-fiction best seller list and number two overall.
Paulene’s not surprised by the popularity of slow cooking, decades after crock-pots first appeared in homes around Australia.
“People love that it saves them time and money, and sometimes even helps them eat more healthily.
“At the end of the day everyone is tired and there’s the temptation to resort to takeaways—an expensive and unhealthy habit. With slow cooking, dinner is ready to simply serve.
“People who slow-cook also save money on cheaper cuts of meat and lower electricity bills.”
As for those who still think of slow cookers in terms of soups and stews dating back to the 1970s, the recipes on the website will come as a surprise.
“We’ve had big fads take over the group in waves,” said Paulene citing cola beef, fudge, slow cooked caramel and christmas cakes as recent favourites.
“I love watching to see what will inspire people next,” Paulene says of the fact play dough and finger paints have recently become a popular topic.
As for Paulene’s personal favourites—she says her popular Lamb Obsession is without a doubt her number one choice, followed by a sweet lamb curry and her husband’s creamy garlic prawns. “Breakfast quiches are almost a daily feature in my slow cooker,” she said.
Paulene’s adventures don’t look like slowing down any time soon. Before Christmas she’ll be launching a Slow Cooker Central App and revamping the website.
“We’re making a major investment in the site to include more of what our members want,” she said.
On top of that she’s already signed contracts for more Slow Cooker Central books —in June 2016 and 2017.
It’s going to be a busy time.
“Simon and I would love to be able to support ourselves and make this our full time job,” she says of her slow cooking success. “But for now we are happy working side by side doing something we love and that others seem to value. That in itself is reward enough for now.”
Thanks very much to Paulene for her time and I can’t wait to see how the group continues to grow!
Are you a fan of the slow cooker?