Cleaning Out the Basement–Fabulous Foods, Washington Gas and Light Company

"A Gift for You!" from Washington Gas and Light Company and Ida Lansden, their Home Service Director in 1962

“A Gift for You!” from Washington Gas and Light Company and Ida Lansden, their Home Service Director in 1962

My interactions with Washington Gas are questions about meter reading, should I be converting to solar, and wait…do I smell gas?

How much nicer to get a cookbook from your power company, especially one that makes life look serene and easy. Plenty of hot water, buckets-full of ice, clean soot-free heat, and an improbably clean rotisserie oven. This is post-war aspirational media–a happy nuclear family, in a home surrounded by people like us, enjoying appliances that turn work into leisure.

That could be you, happily cooking Angel Lemon Torte on the “Burner-with-a-Brain” that eliminates the need for a double-boiler when cooking the lemon filling. And there’s Dad, presiding over Rotisserated Duckling, daubing on a cloying sauce of orange juice concentrate and honey.

the time and ease for leisure when appliances step in to do the work

the time and ease for leisure when appliances step in to do the work

Food styles have certainly changed. That Angel Lemon Torte would no doubt be renamed, perhaps be cooked as individual cakes, and certainly goosed with pistachios, rosewater, or a dash of limoncello. The name Rotisserated Duckling might survive as pure camp, but the daub would certainly get a glug of hot sauce, the OJ pulled out in favor of some pomegranate or peach juice, and I see a whole bunch of thyme in there.

But these are great recipes for showing off the reliability and versatility of gas appliances. Tricky meringues become sure things, unwieldy whole birds are neatly trussed and turned.


jello mold

it’s hard to remember a time when jello molds were a breakthrough

Surely, this was a lifestyle upgrade from pokey apartments, laundry down the hall or down the street, messy coal and oil deliveries, and the squinty terror of reaching into the oven and throwing a lit match at the pilot light.

In Consider the Fork, Bee Wilson reminds us just how groundbreaking a tool can be. Pots–yes pots–allowed humankind to cook. When you didn’t have to tear food off the bone, children and elderly could compete for a meal and get the nutrition they needed to survive. Gas stoves–evolved from hearths and coal behemoths–could have an equal impact on what we eat and how we live.


washington gas rotisserie

massive cuts of meat available to the kings of our own castles

A single housewife could make dishes like those iced pies and jello molds that once would have been reserved for upper class tables laden by hidden servants. And she wouldn’t have to devote her free time to keeping the stove cleaned and polished nor develop the engineering expertise to get it lit.

Life in the backyard is starting to look pretty good.

About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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