Microwaves weren’t always counter sized.
The 1947 Radarange was a whopping six feet tall, weighed nearly 750 pounds, and required its own 220 volt electrical line and a dedicated water line for the cooling tube. It sold for $2000, or nearly $22,000 today. Not yet an appliance for the home cook, Raytheon marketed the behemoth appliance to high-volume, quick service restaurants. Busy diners, ocean liners and hospitals all purchased their own Radaranges, cooking hamburgers and sheet cakes in less than 30 seconds.
Microwave: The Early Years
The microwave’s origins as a cooking device date back to the 1940s. Legend says that a self-taught engineer named Percy Spencer working for the technology firm Raytheon came up with the idea of using radio waves to heat food when he walked by a large radio wave machine and felt the candy bar in his pocket start to melt. It’s a nice story, but only partially true. With the end of WWII in sight, Raytheon execs realized that their highly profitable radar business would have to be retooled for the private market. Spencer had long considered the heating possibilities of the radar; engineers were often seen stopping by the huge bank of waves to warm their hands.
Barbara Kafka’s Steamed Chocolate Pudding
Perhaps it’s best to end with a recipe by one of the microwave’s greatest enthusiasts. Cookbook author Barbara Kafka literally wrote the book on microwave cooking with her 1987 work Microwave Gourmet (buy it). Kafka swears by the appliance, especially for cooking vegetables and steamed puddings. Here’s a modified recipe for her Steamed Chocolate Pudding, published in the New York Times in 2008. It’s half cake, half mousse, but all very good reason to give the lowly microwave a second look.
- 8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces, plus 2 tablespoons, softened
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 eggs
- Ice cream or sweetened whipped cream for serving, optional.
1. Use softened butter to grease a 4-cup bowl. Grind chocolate in a food processor, then add cold butter and sugar; process until combined. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
2. Pour into bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and cook on high for 4 to 5 minutes, or until just set. Remove, pierce plastic with tip of a sharp knife, and cover with a heavy plate; let rest for 10 minutes.
3. Unmold onto a serving plate and serve warm or cold, with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.
- Mark Bittman revisits the microwave in The New York Times.
- A tech-heavy article on the history of the microwave, written by University of Illinois professor and public radio commentator William Hammack.
- Marie T. Smith’s compendium of microwave cooking for the college student, retiree, busy mom, and you.
- Barbara Kafka on the possibilities of microwave cooking in The Atlantic