My parents’ microwave gave its last zap two weeks ago. It’s an occasion that causes some reflection. Don’t get me wrong - at roughly 30 years of age, the microwave owed nothing to anyone, and it deserves to rust in peace. But it’s a box that did a lot in its time with my family, and I’d like to say a few words about its long and worthy life.
As best I can remember, Mom and Dad bought the microwave when I was in fourth or fifth grade, which puts its date of purchase sometime in 1983. As often happened when they were late to the new-gadget party, they splurged and got one of the fancier models on the market: a Sharp R-8560 which wasn’t just a microwave but a convection oven as well.
Dad made the first microwaving discovery that really interested my brother and me. He’d take a slice of sandwich bread, spread some butter on it, then microwave it. The result was a lovely, warm, butter-soaked piece of bread, which made a tasty if unhealthy snack. Later, Mom discovered a brand of frozen pizza that advertised a crispy crust despite being cooked in the microwave. My brother and I considered those pizzas a tasty treat: once we were old enough to be left at home without a babysitter, we had them for dinner on the rare occasions that my parents went out for a movie.
We had to work a bit to figure out how to use the convection function of the microwave. I don’t remember whether the manual was badly written, or we just dived in and pressed buttons in an order that we thought made sense. After some experimentation, we found that the microwave would only work as a convection oven if you did the following: push the ‘convection’ button, enter the temperature, enter the amount of time, and then press the ‘convection’ button again. Before we figured out that second press of the ‘convection’ button, though, there were a couple of truly disastrous dishes.
What happens to tuna burgers (poor man’s crabcakes) when they’re microwaved on high for twenty minutes? They become impregnable to common flatware, skidding across the plate when one attempts to spear them with a fork or cut them with a knife! Tuna burgers were affectionately known as “hockey pucks” forever after.
What happens to the cake you’re making for your father’s birthday when the batter gets microwaved on high for forty-five minutes? The consistency ends up dry and dense, with a ring inside of burnt brown stuff. Trooper that he was, Dad manfully ate an entire piece of the cake, even though we all insisted that he didn’t have to!
Once we understood how the convection function worked, Mom loved it. It was perfect for keeping pasta warm through dinner for second helpings, and it was invaluable at Thanksgiving for cooking vegetables when the regular oven was full of turkey and the stovetop was full of other dishes. And of course it was always useful as a standard microwave, heating water for tea, milk for hot chocolate, and leftovers for dinner.
At one point when I was off at college or graduate school, my parents thought the microwave had died. My enterprising father “took it apart” (probably ‘just’ removing the internal cover and likely risking electrocution in the process) and gave everything a good cleaning. The microwave worked completely normally afterwards for at least another decade.