LAST YEAR it was crock pots, crepe pans and Cuisinarts.
This year "gourmet gadgets," as they are known in the trade (if not to gourmets) are bigger than ever. Or smaller, in the case of pea-size frying pans, hamburger-makers you could fit into your back pocket, tabletop ovens small enough for a doll house and tiny deep fryers - appliances that threaten to make the stove obsolete, not to mention the family meal.
Admittedly, the scaled-down size is good for saving energy, but what ever happened to doing it yourself?
According to the National Housewares Association, these dream machines are manufactured "to satisfy the wants of American homemakers - for an easier and more convenient lifestyle." In fact, almost every appliance for 1978 is small, fast and convenient (except the crock pots, which are slow and convenient.) The smaller size no doubt reflects the smaller households of today.
These gadgets are now whirring, whizzing and sizzling into houseware departments in time for Christmas.
In an informal survey of area stores, the best-selling appliance is still the food processor. Skeptics call it an over-priced Veg-o-matic. Devotees swear it's the king of the kitchen gadgets. This Christmas there are more than 10 food processors on the market - among them, two models of the Cuisinart (given top honors by Consumer Reports magazine), retailing for $225 and $185; the Farberware ($120), the American Food Processor ($79.95), the General Electric ($89.98) and the Omnichef ("Wow . . . it does almost anything!") for $100.
Espresso/cappucino makers are also popular this year, perhaps because the price of coffee has introduced everyone to demitasse. The new Italiaiaian-made "Signor Cappucino" maker holds nine cups; it cost $175 at Bloomingdales and Kitchen Bazaar.Salton has introduced a dream machine for coffee lovers, called "Le Cafe" (the International Coffee Maker), which makes two to four cups of filter coffee, two to eight cups of espresso or cappucino and steams milk. When it is available, in a few months, Le Cafe will retail for $120. The Salton "Hot Coffee Warmer" is "thermostaticallyy controlled" to keep coffee pots and individual cups warm for hours.
The new GE "Peeling Wand" - an electric potato peeler/apple corer and slicer - can be used under running water, according to the manufacturer. It's $22.98 and looks like a soldering iron.
Last year, it was slow cookers; this year, it's fast fixers.The Waring "Steam Chef" - an electric steam cooker - retails for about $45 and is said to cook most meals in less than 30 minutes, which is hardly enough time to set the table. The Waring "Juice Extractor" separates the pulp from the juice of vegetables and fruits for soups, desserts, sauces and beverages quicker than Mother Nature ever intended. The Waring Ice Cream Parlor will make ice cream in less than 30 minutes, and that's faster than baking a cake - unless you own a microwave oven. Its instructions call for regular table salt and ice cubes "straight from the refrigerator."
The electric "Smoke 'N Pit" - a combination slow cooker/smoker for outdoors - goes under the Christmas tree now, under the apple tree next summer. It comes in two sizes: 20 pounds ($69.95) and 45 pounds ($99.95).
For grillers on the go, Mark Design Ltd. has come up with a portable 8-by-11 inch barbecue grill that will hold six average hamburgers or a dozen hot dogs. Even the good old vacuum bottle has been updated. For supposedly spill-free picnics, Aladdin's new "Pump-A-Drink" bottle dispenses liquid from the built-in spout with a touch of the finger.
For munching through old Westerns on TV, Sunbeam's "The Great American Popcorn Machine" is a miniature wagon train that makes four quarts of popcorn. And Westbend's "Sir Crazy" popcorn popper, being puffed as "truly the ultimate inn corn poppers," actually stirs itself.
In the "why-didn't-I-think-of-that" category, we have Mirror's "Watta Pizzaria," which happens to be a round electric frying pan, selling for $20. The lucite "Spaghetti Tree Cheese Grinder," aa pepper mill for cheese, is designed for the table, ($13 at Ursells and the Design Store.)
Judy Ireland of Kitchen Bazaar says her favorite new gadget is the Swiss-made "Raclette Machine" ($69.95 at Kitchen Bazaar), which melts two to three pounds of cheese using two high-intensity lamps. The object is to scrape the creamy mass onto your plate, just like Heidi's grandfather did using the mountain chateau's fireplace. At least it's easier than fondue.
Other new gadgets for Christmas 1977 are GE's "Clean Scene," a new electric facial cleaner and moisturizer ($12.98); Sunbeam's Groomer Razor 8000, aa midget hair-care center that is said to deliver 8,000 strokes per minute and also grooms sideburns, mustaches and beards; and Sunbeam's "Shot of Steam Today Iron," which doubles as a compact dry iron/steamer and is rated at half the wattage of a standard iron.
Perhaps the most unusual new gadget of the year's is an English import called "Teasmade of Knightsbridge," a combination clock radio/lamp/kettle that operates automatically. Set the timer 10 minutes before the alarm and wake up to a steaming cup of tea or coffee, freshly brewed by your bedside. It's available at Bloomingdale's for $100 and holds two to four cups. Now if only it could fetch the paper.