The pressing issue of the week is this fabulously elegant and coquettish, completely useless , 1930s (or '20s, or '40s) green stove in my kitchen. Don’t think the trendy avocado green of the '60s and '70s—no, no. Think “mint” green. Like Frango Mint green. Remember those? Remember a mint green stove? Probably not. Your mother most likely hadn’t even been born when the ElectroChef (built in Detroit, Michigan) was marketed to “the modern woman."
Remember the modern woman? She was the one who cheerfully did her own cooking and cleaning and yard work and laundry and child-rearing and grocery shopping and tuck-pointing and chimney-cleaning and furniture-refinishing and oh, yeah, sewed her own clothes. She was modern before our generation when we did all that and worked a full- time job as well.
It says so, right on there on the stove: “For the Modern Woman, ” embossed under a metallic head of a gal with the kind of hairdo they fancy in Masterpiece Theater—you know, where they tuck long hair with a million bobby pins to make it look like it’s short--when it isn’t. Cutting hair, “no-no." Lying about it, “a-ok."
Everybody knows the gal didn’t cut her hair; but they think she’s hip enough to look like she might have. Reminds me of those Middle-Eastern burqas--- shrouds for living women---that only reveal their eyes. Eyes made up with a hundred bucks worth of eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, brow liner, etc. The message: "I’m pretending I’m just a functional broad, but really I’m much, much more.”
Just like my stove. My stove is elegant, enticing and. . . how do they say it colloquially? . . . a lyin’ piece o’ pond scum. Granted, gorgeously mint green pond scum.
I told the landlord (the proud owner of this antique cross-for-me-to-bear) that after I tried working with this thing awhile, I looked around for the slave quarters. No “modern woman” would have cooked on it herself. I don’t even know how to take it apart to clean under the burners. Even the cleaning lady, when I had a cleaning lady, wouldn’t touch it. “Forget the stove,” she said, “I’m not doing it.”
I have gradually outfitted my kitchen with every kind of electric cooking thing: slow cooker, crock pot, electric skillet, microwave, toaster oven, thus bypassing the stove. I gave up on the oven a year ago, after my poor daughter-in-law’s homemade spectacular eggplant parmesan lay un-cooking for two hours in an oven that proclaimed itself to be 350 degrees F. It lied. Surprise.
The whole contraption is a big liar. All four burners have knobs which read: HIGH, MEDIUM, LOW, OFF. I only attempt to use three of them. The fourth burner looks like the inside of an electronic volcano---with a ceramic thing in the middle and tiny slinky-like wires snaking around it. It scares the heck out of me. HIGH usually works, but that’s it. Since most stove-top cooking requires HIGH to heat up the pan, often bringing something to a boil, then reducing heat—you’d think, well, that should work. But forget MEDIUM. . .it either doesn’t know MEDIUM from it’s ass or it prevaricates. LOW? My stove thinks LOW is another word for “BARELY ALIVE.” Or, it bats its heavily- mascara-ed eyes and says, “I do ‘low’ all the time, Honey. No problem. Trust me.” LOW is so low you forget it’s on ‘til you smell something funny and realize you put a Tupperware bowl on it. And it’s melting.
We called Sears about the stove, and when we told them how old it was, Sears said, “No way.” So this morning a nice young man came from Lane Appliance LLC to evaluate the stove. He puttered a bit, hmm’d a bit, and then joined the cleaning lady’s team. Nope. No way. Not doing it.
“Can’t fix it or won’t fix it?” bellowed Jim-the-Landlord, a nice 91-year-old man with an often-gruff exterior, who came to check on the stove-checker.
“I don’t do these kinds of restorations,” said the nice young man. “I can give you a phone number for somebody who might. They’re in California. But they come out here sometimes,” he said.
“Great,” I said, “Let’s fly him out.”
Jim-the-Landlord snorted. His snorts translate as “forget about it.”
Before Jim-the-Landlord left , he tried to get me to say that really the stove worked just fine. “HIGH” and “BARELY ALIVE" should be enough, right? You can heat stuff up, right?
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. My darling ElectroChef is a 500-pound rice cooker.“I don’t even know how to clean under those burners,” I said. “Are you supposed to take the whole thing apart?”
“You don’t even know how to clean an electric stove?” barked The Landlord, in the same tone used by a woman who inevitably provokes a fist fight when she says, “What kind of a man are you?”
“All the new ones have smooth glass tops,” I said, not wanting to put too fine a point on the fact that honestly, really, I do think the whole stove-cleaning thing is kind of beneath me. I mean, I’ll do it—but do they offer a class at the junior college on “how” to clean a 1930s electric stove? Frankly, I’m a glass cook-top, self-cleaning-oven kinda gal, myself.
Jim-the-Landlord, a renowned preservationist, who has spent the most recent part of his life saving significant buildings (and obviously kitchen appliances) from destruction, started jamming at one of the burners. “Get me a screwdriver,” he ordered. “These things just flip right out.”
Only a quick aside: Why is it when men help you do things, they immediately start giving you orders? Is this a military thing? Testosterone? Do they teach this to boys when the girls are in home economics or they split the genders up for sex ed?
Anyway, Jim flipped out the burner, which was attached to an ohms-and-amps electricity lesson we didn’t have at my high school. But he couldn’t get it back where it came from. “Look down there. Look at it. It goes right there. What do you see?”
I saw a little tab. In my mind I thought the burner went the other way, but I couldn’t be sure.
“We’ll get you some of these new things,” he said, looking at the little cup-kind-of-thing under the round burner. It was horribly gunky, because nobody I know ever cleaned it because we had no clue as to how to get at it. “You just need some new ones,” he said. “All the stores have them.” Then he left. Half an hour later, he came back with the replacements.
Just in the nick of time, Marv-The-Handyman (a smart and friendly roundish fellow who was designed for overalls) arrived to help Jim-the-Landlord with another project. We lured him right into my kitchen. They bent over the stove. It’s a very tiny kitchen and I slipped away.
Hilarity ensued (off-stage) as Jim-the-Landlord tried to show Marv-the-Handyman how easy it was to take out the filthy little cups under the burner that the ditzy lady tenant didn’t even know how to clean, and put the burners back like they used to be. Nobody could quite figure it out. Ha! I giggled. Then they did.
And now I am the proud graduate of the post-graduate course called, “How Men Clean the Stove.” No Ajax. No toxic agents. No scraping. No scrubbing. Throw out all the dirty parts and get new ones. So what if the oven doesn’t work, and all the burners lie? Mission accomplished.
After they left, my husband, who was only able to observe part of this, asked the pertinent question: “What was your goal with all this? I thought you wanted a new stove. Are you any closer to that?”
Not really. I am now making lists of vintage appliance restorers from the Internet: Antique Appliance Company, Clayton, Georgia, is one. My favorite so far: The Old Appliances Club, TOAC, for short. Why am I doing this?
According to a booklet entitled “I Adore My Electrochef,” it is “A symphony of graceful, flowing lines, gleaming porcelain, sparkling metal! Completely divorced from every tradition of old-fashioned range design, Electrochef is so genuinely modern, so thoroughly in good taste as to become a 'show-piece' in even the most pretentious kitchen! Electrochef is more than worthy of its position as ‘America’s most beautiful appliance!’”
Plus it matches the refrigerator. This story is not over yet. Watch this space.
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