What’s on the menu

It used to be a thing that the society pages in our local papers were not as concerned with celebrities as they are now (although royalty featured prominently); they were far more egalitarian.
They mostly concerned with who was visiting whom, where they were visiting from, and who was hosting wedding showers and afternoon teas. A lot of the names were from prominent Charlottetown families: the Longworths, the Rogers, the Holmans. But it also seemed that anyone could submit a bit of happy gossip.

From Jan. 8, 1949:

Miss Helen Hopkirk of the Charlotte Residence entertained for several of her friends at an afternoon tea on Thursday.

Mrs Erskine Haywood, Upper Prince Street, entertained informally at an afternoon tea during the holiday season.

Mr. and Mrs, J. Leroy Holman and Mr. and Mrs. A.B.L. Horne entertained jointly at the former’s spacious home in Summerside on Saturday afternoon at a delightfully informal tea. Mrs. W.A. Allen presided over the coffee urn and Miss Martha MacFarlane served the many guests.

Command of the coffee seemed like a fairly important task if the user was specially noted in the blurb. And how informal does a tea have to get before it’s “delightfully” so?
Some years later nothing much had changed it appears.

In the Friday, Aug. 30, 1957 edition of the Guardian under the Happenings of the Week headline it appears that a big meeting of ham radio operators descended on Charlottetown.

An afternoon tea for the “visiting ladies” was hosted by a Mrs. Rogers. During the tea there was a demonstration of a micro wave radio, which seems odd as all of the husbands involved were ham radio operators.

Of course this had nothing to do with the kitchen but leads inevitably to new cooking technology. The microwave oven was invented and patented in 1945. The first commercial product, the “Radarange”, was first sold to the public in 1946. The Radarange could fry an egg in 12 seconds, was also the size of a six-foot-tall refrigerator, weighed over 320 kilograms, and cost $3,000 ($40,000 in today’s money adjusted for inflation).

Later versions by other manufacturers were available widely by 1955 but they were really too big and far too pricey for home use. The countertop microwave oven came out in 1967, produced by the Amana Corporation.

The first mention of microwave ovens in local papers came from a Thursday, August 15, 1957, Guardian story. The article says the technology allows the user to bake a white layer cake in three minutes instead of 25.

The cost of a microwave oven in 1957 was about $1,795 (not as expensive as the Radarange but still about $15,500 in today’s money adjusted for inflation) but is was estimated that they would be within the average budget in a “few years’ time.”

Miss Geraldine Mann, a home economist for an unnamed microwave oven manufacturer said in the article, “They won’t free the housewife completely from the kitchen, no one wants that. The kitchen is where the housewife is so creative. But cooking in seconds will give her more time to be creative and allow her more time with her family.”

Those are very optimistic (and dated and sexist) words for something that turned out to be a really large butter-melter and popcorn maker.

About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also like writing about food. Go figure.

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