The Saratoga Sun -

Things are heating up ... fast


There are several apparatuses (apparati?) around the home with which most folks contend.

I have written on struggles with the washer/dryer and its attendant chores and fluids.

I have praised the refrigerator and commented on the device’s various devious drawers.

There is another gadget to mention … the microwave.

From folks who complain any food cooked in the microwave is not really food to the “need it now junkies,” Americans have arrived at an almost universal love/hate relationship with our ultra-fast cooking contraptions.

Melts in Your Pocket

The microwave, like many other inventions, came into existence through an accidental but serendipitous discovery.

Percy Spencer, a Raytheon employee working on a magnetron used in radar transmitters during World War II, noticed one day while tinkering on an active transmitter that a candy bar in his pocket was starting to melt—the microwaves were cooking the candy in his pocket!

Spencer was not alone in noticing the effect—but he was the first to investigate, and eventually commercialize it.

In one experiment, an egg was placed in a tea kettle and a magnetron placed above the kettle. As a result the co-worker observing the experiment got the proverbial “egg on his face” when the egg exploded.

Eventually Spencer attached a magnetron to a metal box to contain the microwaves—and the microwave was born.

The first food cooked in this true microwave? Popcorn.

Raytheon filed a patent for a microwave cooking oven in 1945 and Spencer received a $2 gratuity from the company with no royalties paid.

That’s getting shortchanged for some really short waves!


“I just bought a microwave fireplace. You can spend an evening in front of it in only eight minutes.”

—Steven Wright


From Macro to Micro

The first commercial microwave, dubbed the Radarange, hit the market in 1947. The device was 6 feet tall, weighed 750 pounds and cost $5,000 ($52,000 today). Eventually the size and cost came down and in 1967 a countertop microwave became available for $475. Today you will find the reduced-in-size cooking devices in pretty much every house, dorm, office or phone booth.

In the 70s I visited my aunt and uncle who had purchased a microwave that could only truly be called “countertop” if you had a LOT of counter space.

They had a fairly large table in their dining room that supported the cooker.

We actually still have one of these museum pieces in the back room of the Saratoga Sun. Though we actually use a small modern model, the hulking old style machine scares me a little. Possibly because when microwaves were introduced into convenience stores in the 70s the stores were required to put up warnings for people with pacemakers.

I just knew radiation was leaking out.

Turn Baby, Turn!

There have been several features used in microwaves over the years. My aunt and uncle’s previously mentioned microwave sported an attached probe you could stick in a turkey so it would cook “automatically”—not well, just automatically.

As far as microwave accessories over the years, the only one that has truly made an impression on me has been the turntable. When microwaves first hit the scene, you had to turn food halfway through to cook food thoroughly. I used to turn food over, around and sideways. The little motorized Lazy Susan has been a godsend as far as my current “stick it in and forget it” philosophy goes.

I have noted the explosions that happen when you microwave a mug of soup containing potatoes or the like. You put your soup in for a few minutes and walk away. Somewhere in the process you hear small artillery going off in your kitchen. Upon return to your now beeping cooker, you find a good portion of your lunch strewn around the insides of your microwave like something from a food-based Amityville Horror—so the attachment I am waiting for now is a removable plastic insert that covers the walls and “ceiling” of the microwave so you don’t have to awkwardly wipe out the insides of your box on a regular basis.

Oh, wait. Did I just invent something?

It’ll probably be available from Telebrands next week.

In the meantime I put a paper plate over my cup or bowl. Even this malfunctions occasionally. I have come back to a particularly explosive potato soup to find the plate askew and hot potatoes everywhere.


“Nobody ever follows the part of the instructions that says, ‘Let food cool in microwave for 1 to 2 minutes.’”



From Yick to Yum

Early microwave food consisted of popcorn, burritos and boxes that were supposed to be “food” when they were done being irradiated.

Problems you can still encounter are having your plate be hot while your food is cold or pulling a seemingly hot item out only to find both ends scalding with a frozen center.

Though you and your microwave can still turn steak into shoe leather at a breakneck pace or dry turkey into something that makes the Sahara seem moist, there are scads of microwave meals that are actually … well … tasty.

Advances in packaging have allowed contained foods to come to a level that can almost be considered “gourmet.”

Newer plastics allow food to be heated evenly, cooking sleeves heat your hot pockets evenly and double-walled containers steam your food while being microwaved.

My big problem with microwave packaging is that I spend a lot of time walking back to the trashcan to see what the instructions said to start with.


“My Saturday night is like a microwave burrito. Very tough to ruin something that starts out so bad to begin with.”

—Michael Chabon


Microwave Memes,

Metal and More

The internet is full of funny microwave memes and obscure uses for your device. Some of the weirdest uses I found were: Sterilizing potting soil, softening brown sugar, dyeing fabric, disinfecting sponges, drying herbs and much more. You can find these uses readily by just searching “other uses for the microwave.”

Here’s hoping you have good luck with your microwave and remember; Don’t put metal in the thing!


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