THE COOKING equipment industry was pretty good to the consumer during the past decade. Of course there were some weak moments. During the fall of 1977 there was a plague of square egg makers -- hundreds of thousands of little plastic devices that turned normal-looking hard-boiled eggs into perfect cubes. But the ultimate damage was slight, and by 1978 they were gone.
Someone in the inscrutable Orient teamed up with a promotional television marketer and brought us some horrendous cutlery designed to cut beer cans in half. If you like to cut your beer cans in half before you saute them, it's a great knife to have. Fortunately these knives had limited distribution.
The lunatic fringe of the small electrical appliance industry was active as suaul with hot dog makes, mechanical crepe makers and toy popcorn trucks.
But this was "small stuff."
The 1970s witnessed the introduction of more professional quality cooking equipment for home kitchens. For example:
Henkel and Wustoff knives, which were virtually unknown to the housewares industry in 1960, are now found in cooking equipment shops throughout the United States.
The manufacturers and importers of gadgets have begun to move away from the flimsy, poorly constructed, overly decorated junk of the '60s. Zesters, corers, cutters, pitters and peelers are now available with top quality parts and construction. And there have been some splendid little inventions in this area. For example the Zeroll Ice Cream Dipper, filled with anti-freeze which prevents the balls of ice cream from sticking to the scoop; the one-piece Shrimp-Ease that separates the shell from the meat while opening and cleaning the shrimp's veins; the Hoan corkscrew that actually opens a bottle of wine with one simple, almost foolproof motion.
Claypot cookers, perfected by the Etruscans over 2,000 years ago, had a small renaissance, These pots made of flowerpot clay are soaked in water, filled with food and placed in the oven. The water in the walls of the pot blends with the moisture in the food and all the ingredients are cooked in this jacket of steam.
When food processors arrived, suddenly everything had to be blended. There was so much puree that a well-respected medical anthroopologist state that if we continued to mush all our foods at the present rate we would no longer need teeth. Dinner parties began to look like pablum tastings. But just as we were forgetting how to chew, the madness abated and the food processor began to be used for the full range of its cutting talents. Now it has become one of the most valuable pieces of equipment to be marketed this decade.
The top-of-the-line models -- Robot Coupe, Cuisinart, Waring, and faber-ware -- do a fine job. Slicing fruits and vegetables is now almost effortless. Mincing and chopping substantial quantities of ingredients has been reduced to a simple task. Blending is a cinch.
The pasta makers began to arrive in substantial numbers during 1973 and 1974. At first they were all hand-operated models (Atlas Althea) that rolled out and cut the dough through a mangle-like structure. Now we have the "big electrics," units that mix the eggs and flours together, then roll out the pasta and cut it into various widths.
Pasta is an almost perfect recession food -- fast, filling, flexible and inexpensive. The dough is merely a mixture of flour and eggs. If you're interested in high fiber diets, use whole wheat flour. If you're worried about cholesterol, use egg whites only. If you are concerned about calories you can make a sauce using only a blend of freshly steamed vegetalbes without butter or oils.
Finally, we have seen the introduction of home turbos, or convection ovens, a means of cooking through which hot air is kept circulating around the foods. They work on ordinary household outlets drawing only 110 volts, cleaning themselves. Though they will not take the place of the large conventional ovens, they make an excellent second unit.
The last 10 years have witnessed the emergence of a national concern with good health and food. People are more concerned with what they are eating and how it was prepared.At the same time we have been confronted with a serious inflation that has drastically increased the cost of eating in restaurants. These two interests -- good health and good value -- have produced more and more home cooking. As a result there has been a greater and greater expenditure of cooking utensils.
Culinary equipment manufacturers are fully aware of what's happening, and we can look forward to a continued emphasis on high-quality equipment with less and less cheap and gimmick tools being produced and promoted. During the next few years look, too, for a big push for new equipment and revised design in the interest of conserving energy.