PAT STONER ISN'T HAPPY WITH HER NEW CROCK POT.
“I’m sending it back,” she says. “It spurts.”
Our conversation had meandered into the land of small appliances, especially those that came into our lives as wedding presents — in the middle of the last century, a marriage couldn’t get off the ground without crock pots and waffle irons, toasters, blenders, Mixmasters, electric frying pans.
Whether or not we're still married to original co-giftee -- do we still use the appliances?
“I’m a non-compliance appliance person,” Sally Dolfini said. “I wouldn’t have a microwave for years. I think I did get a crock pot when we got married, but I gave it away. I had an electric wok that I kept a week. I didn’t like the way it heated.
“Oh, I did have a Romertopf. You know, that clay thing you soak in water and then you put a chicken in it and roast it in the oven. It’s terra cotta and it makes your food taste like terracotta. Like dirt. Romans cooked this way, supposedly. No wonder the empire fell. I don’t know how the Roman Legions carried Romertopfs while they were out conquering the world. That’s probably why once they got somewhere they weren’t in a hurry to go home. They didn’t want to have to pack up those Romertopfs.”
“We got hand mixers, an electric frying pan — Farberware, it lasts! Yep, I still use it,” Katie Russ said. “It was a gift from the Mattole Valley aunts and uncles, the Roscoes and the Etters. They gave us that and an electric griddle. I’ve been through two of the griddles, and I’m going through my third, new/old griddle, it’s the old kind, but it’s new to me, because the new ones I don’t like, they don’t get hot enough.”
Mary Hubner showed me her 1974 “Wedding Memories” book: The ample pages to list the presents were filled with familiar names: Mr. and Mrs. Joe Borges (a gold blender); Mary Trutalli (a mixer); Dave and Hilda Branco (another mixer); Mr. and Mrs. Ray Tedsen (a pressure cooker) ...and enough Corning ware to stock a boutique.
“Small appliances?” said Pam Mauney. “I’ve seem 'em all. I have so many appliances, Dennis had to build a huge cupboard in the kitchen to store them : hand-held mixers, waffle irons of course, toasters, electric frying pans. We had to get rid of the frying pan because it was made with Teflon. I use the one in inherited from my mother. She’d brown the pork chops, turn the heat down, add the cream-of-something soup — enough sodium to take care of you for three days — and the rice, and that would be our dinner. Don’t tell anyone, I loved it.
"The best wedding present appliance was a Farberware indoor rotisserie. I sold it a few years ago at a garage sale. I shouldn’t have; too bad I did that. And yes, I have my chafing dishes, silver, two of them, a round one and an oblong one…”
“I hope you aren’t planning on making peas in them,” I said.
Because it's time for the annual retelling of great Thanksgiving dinner stories, and Pam has a world-class contender. Many Easter, years ago, on Easter, Pam’s aunt Shirley called and, as the subject turned to the upcoming family dinner, asked, “How did you like those peas and pearl onions I made for Thanksgiving?”
Pam hesitated; you had to be careful what you said to Shirley. “I’m sure they were good,” Pam says, “but I don’t remember them —”
“Of course, you don’t,” Shirley said. “They’re still on the buffet. I went to get the hand-painted ceramic covered serving dish ready for Easter, and I couldn’t get the lid off. It was completely sealed with the gases from the rotting I forgot to serve in November.”
Mary Ellen Boynton’s mixer was an anniversary present, a few years after her 1960 wedding. “It has only one speed now, but I love it. It’s an old Sunbeam, in beautiful shape, looks great, only works on high. I have to wrap towels around it to keep it from spraying flour. My kids keep saying, ‘Why don’t you get a hand mixer?’ and I say, ‘No, no, no, I like this one. If something needs to be mixed slowly, I’ll just do it my hand.’ Everything else that breaks, I go buy a new one, but not the mixer. I’ve had it fixed over and over, but I can’t find anyone to fix it now..."
An early 1960s Sunbeam mixer as a metaphor; am enchanted with the poetry.
“How many speeds do you have, Mary Ellen?” I asked, and she said, “Exactly!”
Confidential to P.S.: The crock pot directions, although boring, are clear: you cannot fill it more than two-thirds full. The lid is loose to let the steam out, and it will spurt if you load it up, which I suspect you’ve been doing now that you have a man in your life. Romance is not without expenses: invest in the five-quart.