As the world churns Fad appliances are all too soon left to their own devices

October 13, 1990|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Evening Sun Staff

Hey, it's the weekend. Time to relax and have some fun in the kitchen.

Grab that blender and whip up a batch of strawberry daiquiries.

Crank up the ice cream maker and turn out a quart or two of Bing cherry.

While you're at it, how about some fresh pasta, in one of the dozen thicknesses your pasta machine produces.

Don't forget the fresh-squeezed orange juice from your electric juicer and just-ground coffee from beans gobbled up by your grinder. And while you're thinking about breakfast, how about unearthing your egg cooker or your waffle iron or maybe the crepe maker you got for Christmas . . . what year was that?

Wait, you say. The '80s are gone. It's the '90s, when everyone brings food home from delis and drive-thrus and cooks in microwaveable containers.

So what's become of all those must-have appliances of the last few decades? Surely, if you dig deep enough into the kitchen cupboards, you'll find the waffle iron or the juicer. It's probably right behind the crock pot, to the left of the hot-air popcorn popper, hidden by the food processor you were certain was the ultimate in kitchen gear -- until you used it.

Depending on your age and when you set up housekeeping, you might also uncover an electric knife with sharpener, a pressure cooker, a fondue pot (now there was a way to spend a Saturday night) or even a HotDogger.

And how about that Veg-O-Matic tucked away in the pantry? About 12 million of those early food processors were reportedly sold in the 1960s until the company sliced and diced itself out of business. (Fear not. The Veg-O-Matic is making a comeback. See story below.)

Well, the appliance market is meant to be fickle. That's so you, dear consumer, will push aside last year's must-have for this year's can't-live-without.

The Big Three appliances -- toasters, coffee makers and irons -- ++ in 1988 were in no less than 99 percent of U.S. households, according to Mary Gillespie, assistant director of communications for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers in Chicago.

But even these staples are susceptible to trends and technology. "I put my percolator away" in favor of a drip coffee maker, says Esther Marsiglia of Pikesville.

Another popular appliance, the hand mixer, has gone into hibernation in some homes. "I never use it," says Phyllis Rowley of Baltimore. "It came with my husband; it's avocado green."

Marsiglia, who demonstrates appliances for manufacturers and at trade fairs, remembers when a crepe maker was a necessity. "I thought that I really needed it," she says. But she made crepes only once or twice. "It was too much work."

Marilyn Waranch, also of Pikesville, "never used" the crepe pan she bought. But Glen Arm cook Tai Linkous gave her electric crepe maker a second chance: After shoving it deep into the cupboard, "I discovered how well it worked and brought it back."

For Linkous, who says she has and uses many appliances, the biggest boondoggle was probably the electric plate warmer. "I don't know who came up with that," she says. Linkous also labeled as "useless" the electric bun warmer, which she once possessed three of -- all gifts.

In the appliance business, specialty -- or fad -- items are referred to as "niche" products. "You've got to love what the thing produces or have several members of your family love it" to make a niche product pay off, explains the appliance association's Gillespie.

From a manufacturer's standpoint, the niche has to be nurtured, says Maryjo Cohen, president of National Presto Industries in Eau Claire, Wis. "There are a lot of products that end up in the attic because they don't get the coverage they used to," says Cohen, whose firm is known for its innovative niche products.

It's difficult to keep such products "hot" without continually educating consumers about them and their uses, Cohen added.

She is hoping, for example, that an upcoming promotion will move the pressure cooker back onto the front burner in many kitchens. This is an appliance whose fortunes "rise and fall like the tides," says Tom Stiyer of Greenbelt, who collects appliances as a hobby and as somewhat of "a mission" to preserve what others so easily discard. "Every once in a while pressure cookers make a resurgence," he says.

A couple of Presto's creations -- and similar products by other manufacturers -- may be occupying a lot of back-pantry space. ** One is the hamburger cooker; the other, something called The HotDogger. Both were products of the 1970s; neither is made now.

The burger cooker pressed out the grease into a tray below as it cooked the burgers, explains Cohen. "There was a real market for this product," many companies jumped in, inferior products came along, and the market fizzled, she explains.

Cohen says she still uses her PrestoBurger, and somewhere there are at least 175,000 similar appliances made by Norelco.

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