Automatic home bread machines have had an up-and-down existence.
The appliances, popularized by Japanese manufacturers, hit the U.S. consumer market in the late 1980s. By 1993, Americans had bought more than 3 million machines, according to a Washington Post article that year. A price drop, from $400 to $200, helped fuel sales. Then, the novelty wore off, and breadmakers joined electric juicers and cordless knives as lesser-used items in many American households. Down they went, into a cabinet or to a basement shelf.
Our family’s first bread machine, a Hitachi, followed that pattern. Last year, though, I retrieved it from storage and restored it to the countertop as I returned to making bread on a regular basis. That lasted for a couple of months, until the machine’s electronic control panel quit working. The digital timer turned on, but the buttons no longer responded to the touch.
My first inclination: Fix it.
The motor was in fine condition, and I was certain it had many good years of life left in it. But a phone call determined that the manufacturer had left the bread-machine business some years earlier and that the part wasn’t something you could pick up at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Scouring eBay for a replacement panel didn’t appeal to me. Even if I could track one down, I didn’t have confidence that I could find anyone who could make the swap.
Uncertain whether I wanted to invest in a new one, I let the matter slide. Then, quite by accident, I learned that the up-and-down trend of breadmakers had created a secondary market at yard sales and thrift shops. On a whim, while dropping off a donation at our local Goodwill outlet, I stopped by the appliance area on the way out. High up on a shelf, I spotted a Magic Chef breadmaker in its original box.
Taking it down, I smiled as I noticed that the packing tape was undisturbed on one half of the top. I imagined the back story: Undoubtedly, this was the unwanted wedding present for a couple without much initiative when it came to the kitchen. I paid the $10, eager to make their loss into my gain.
If this Magic Chef needs a part, I may be out of luck. The machine is no longer made, and, like the Hitachi, parts are hard to come by. My next model needs to be one that stays around for a while.
Fortunately, my breadmaking interest seems to be part of a slight comeback trend. Sales of new machines rose to $36 million in 2010, a nearly 20 percent over 2009, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm that surveys kitchen appliances as part of its Consumer Tracking Service.
While this is a fraction of what Americans spend on other kitchen items, it’s the kind of upward swing that keeps manufacturers in the game.
Do you have a bread machine hanging around the house? If so — and it’s operational -- try Steve’s adapted recipe for Whole-Meal Bread.