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Family Firsts – The Microwave

My parents never owned a microwave. Hours spent in the kitchen cooking meals was something we all enjoyed and the thought of cutting corners to save time was never given much thought. Most of our bread was homemade and our main dish meals cooked lovingly over a slow and low heat or cooked fast in a hot cast iron skillet. I grew up watching my grandmother make popcorn on top of the stove in a large cast iron skillet with an ill fitting lid. We would later resort to Jiffy Pop, but I guess my parents never saw the need for a microwave. Even after my mother passed away and my father remarried, there was still no microwave. It was just not a necessity and the cost would have required that it was.

I saw my first microwave when I was in junior high school. Our home economics class went on a ‘field trip’ to the home of one of our well-to-do classmates. We gathered around her kitchen while our teacher explained how the microwave worked. We were advised to never heat water in a coffee cup because the surface tension could make it explode (was that really a thing I wonder). We were advised to never place metal in the oven for fear of fire. We all watched in awe as popcorn kernels were placed in a paper bag and popped to perfection – but where was the butter? Mom and Dad were not impressed when I hailed the miracles of the microwave.

My ex-husband and I bought our first microwave at Montgomery Ward (a department store – often referred to as Monkey Ward’s). It was huge. We bought a microwave cart to sit it on as it was bigger than our television. I think all in all, it cost in excess of $500. I remember trying to defrost meat and the edges getting cooked before the center was defrosted. Cooking meat left it tough, tasteless, and a horrible gray color. I think the microwave became useful only for reheating leftovers.

Not all serving dishes were microwave safe. Plastic melted on occasion and hand painted dishes would often cause an arc if there was any metal in the trim. Styrofoam and other single use products could melt. Ceramic or glass dishes that were not microwave safe could get extremely hot to the touch! We were advised not to use decorated paper towels – white only!

Early microwaves did not heat evenly. Our first microwave did not have a rotating carousel that moved the food constantly. Those came much later. I think we did purchase a stand alone carousel that required winding up to get it to turn? I won’t swear to that.

My microwave repertoire today consists of:

  • A baked potato although I prefer them in the oven
  • Reheating food
  • Heating a rice bag neck-warmer
  • A draft-free place for yeast dough to rise
  • Defrosting food (they work much better now)
  • Cooking convenience foods – a rare occasion for us
  • Melting butter
  • Heating a cup of water
  • Steaming vegetables (Tupperware made a great little microwave steamer)

Most kitchens are equipped with a microwave now as they are considered a standard kitchen appliance. We have purchased or lived in six different places since we were married and all but one had a microwave installed.

Was your first microwave a mammoth like mine? Have you mastered actually cooking in a microwave? Or perhaps you are like my parents, and never saw the need for one? I’d love to hear.

Enjoy this 1960s predicted peek into our 1990s future.