The dream appliance of housewives in the 1940s and 50s was the Westinghouse roaster oven. Glossy magazine ads boasted that the portable oven was “pure cooking magic” and Betty Furness hawked its benefits on early television. She promised viewers that their holiday bird would not dry out. “The best place for a turkey is in a Westinghouse roaster,” she declared. She told woman that if they needed “help around the house,” the roaster would be a splendid assistant.
Having kitchen help in the form of an auxiliary oven didn’t come cheap. In 1949, the roaster sold for $39.95. At a time when the average salary was $3,600 a year, gas 26 cents a gallon, and turkey 10 cents a pound, buying the cooking oven was equivalent to spending almost $400 today. Still, nearly every family in our neighborhood had one.
The kitchen in our row house was so narrow that two people couldn’t pass each other. But somehow we found room for this two-foot wide appliance and its enameled steel base, though I recall the basement door always bumped up against it. I can’t remember my mother using the roaster for anything but the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.
In retrospect, we know that the spiffy, freestanding appliance was an energy hog, that caused a sizeable leap in the electric bill. Maybe that’s why it was used so infrequently. Despite its inefficiency and cost, the roaster was extremely durable and, with no moving parts, easy to maintain.
Today there’re still a great many of these relics floating around on the Internet, enough to maintain a cult of followers. My mother’s oven went to the attic in the 1970s and I never saw it again. But I always think about the classy, old roaster when I’m wrestling with an icy, 20-pound bird on Thanksgiving morning. And, I think of Mama and recall how proud she was of that oven and the many juicy, tender turkeys she served loved ones on holidays.