If there was ever a kitchen appliance that was associated with the eighties, then the Microwave Oven is surely it. These wonder devices entered our homes with the promise of quick and convenient cooking, which was certainly true, but there was also a great deal left out of the marketing campaigns, as we all discovered when our household finally got one.
It may surprise you to discover that the microwave oven wasn’t actually invented in the eighties though. A patent was filed in the 1930s that proposed the groundwork for the method that microwave ovens use, and in 1945 it was found that microwaves could have a heating effect when a radar engineer discovered that a radar set had melted a chocolate bar in his pocket.
The first home microwave oven was launched in 1952 in the US, but it failed to catch on due to it’s expensive price tag. In the 1960s further models were released by various companies but it still failed to catch on, again due to expense and the unfamiliar technology. By the late 1970s prices started to come down, and by the time the 1980s arrived the cost was low enough for many normal families to consider buying one.
Cost however was not the only barrier stopping microwave ovens from coming into peoples homes. Scare stories about the effects of radiation of different kinds soon got linked to microwave ovens, and people were paranoid about these devices leaking rogue microwaves and slowly cooking them to death. Devices were even sold which were like mini Geiger counters for microwaves, which you could wave around your microwave oven to make sure it was safe.
Add to this fear the fact that you should not use metal containers in a microwave, and that anything you did use needed to be certified “microwave safe”, and it’s a wonder they took off at all!
Probably the biggest disappointment when you finally got a microwave was the look, texture and taste of the food once it had been cooked. Microwave ovens do not brown the food, so you end up with pale food that somehow doesn’t quite taste right.
Baked potatoes are a great example of this, as they were the poster child for many a microwave oven advertising campaign. “Why take an hour or more to make a baked potato when you can do it in minutes in a microwave?“, the adverts cried. How about because you want a fluffy inside with a thick crunchy skin to munch on afterwards?
Nowadays microwave ovens have fancy digital controls and lots of preprogrammed cooking options, but in the eighties it was typical two dial controls – one to set the cooking power, the other a timer dial. Hands up how many of you remember having to turn the dial clockwise then anti-clockwise in order to accurately set the time you wanted! Today you can also get microwaves combined with convection ovens and grills which help get round the browning problem.
The microwave oven is still a great invention, and over the years we’ve got used to the taste of microwave ready meals. Also, there’s one thing you can do in a microwave oven which you can’t do in a regular oven. Next time you have a packet of marshmallows, try popping one on a plate and putting it in the microwave, just don’t leave it in too long unless you enjoy cleaning up marshmallow explosions!