Saturday, February 22, 2014

Easy modern electric fantasies

Prepare yourself for another post that won't sound too bad (to most of you, anyway): roast duck with orange sweet potato stuffing, creamed onions au gratin, a lattice-topped apple pie. Today's menu is brought to you from "Carefree Cooking...Electrically," a 1950 booklet from the Edison Electric Institute.

Edison presents a lovely picture of what the kitchen will look like as readers find "new zest and fascination in cooking the easy modern electric way." Just look at the bounty the oven will hold:

For extra convenience, the cookbook includes four "Oven Meals" consisting of several dishes to put into the oven at once that will be ready for dinner together. Here's what you get with "Oven Meal No. 4" (which I chose because it's the only one with a photo):

At first it sounds like a wonderful idea: just put everything in the oven, wait a little under two hours, and ta-da! Dinner for six is served.

Of course, that's not taking into account that if you make this dinner, you will have to singe, clean, wash, and dry the duck , make the stuffing, and get the duck stuffed and ready to bake while you're also grating cheese and making a medium white sauce to put over the onions you've sliced and arranged in a baking dish. Plus you will still have the carrots to pare and quarter along with the celery to cut up. And once that's all done, there is still the simple matter of making and rolling pastry, paring, coring, and slicing apples, mixing the pie filling and making the lattice crust. In short, this seems easy only if you don't consider anything before putting it all in the oven as part of the preparation.

Of course, putting it all in the oven looks pretty easy in the picture, but anytime I try to cram that much stuff into an oven at once, it is a disaster. The pans don't all fit. The oven door won't shut all the way without my rearranging the pans 13 different ways, spilling something, and letting all the heat out of the preheated oven. The onions would still be unpleasantly crunchy because the oven was too full, and the pie crust would burn from being too close to the heating element because the racks have to be in odd spots to accommodate all that food. We all know this will end with the pie bubbling over and burning onto the duck below.

And what will an apple pie taste like after it's spent nearly two hours in an oven with a duck and onions au gratin? They're a nice fantasy, Edison Electric, but the "Oven Meals" are fantasies best left in the pamphlet.

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