Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Tale of Two Ranges

Unless you’re cooking outdoors, it’s pretty difficult to prepare a hot meal or bake without the help of a range. Over time, we have prepared dishes on electric and gas stoves, and I’ve received a number of comments about the appliances we use on Cavalcade of Food. Many of the cooking episodes have been recorded at the cottage, where I am fortunate to have two kitchens: the main inside kitchen and then a “summer” kitchen I built in a shed on the side of the house. This year I decided to swap out the stoves I had in both of these locations with some that I had stored away.

The kitchen shed hosts a 40-inch range, and originally had a 1952/53 Hotpoint single oven range. I removed that stove (and gave it to a friend who was both a fan of vintage appliances and in need of a stove) and replaced it with a 1954 General Electric Liberator, which is a double oven range which was top-of-the-line in its day. You will get a glimpse of this range in an upcoming episode featuring steak au poivre.

Within the cottage, the kitchen can only accommodate a 30-inch range. For the last couple of years, I had a 1958 General Electric range, which was in perfect working order. But I wanted to put another range from my collection into service, so I looked among the other 30-inch models and decided to exchange it for a 1954 Frigidaire Thifty-30 range.

The General Electric range I removed featured three six-inch and one eight-inch Calrod burners, one of them being “high speed.” In fact, the high speed burner could get a pot of water to boil in a little more than three minutes. It featured small pushbutton switches on the top of the range that controlled the burners, a work light, a clock with timer and automatic oven switch. It also had two appliance outlets (one of them that could be set to go on at a specific time) and a broiler.

There are a lot of old GE stoves out there and it’s no wonder – they sold lots of them. GE was, and still is, a large company that had huge market share in major appliances. I always felt their products were fairly well built and engineered, and they had a large network of dealers and service technicians.  I recall the GE was the “official” range of the Pillsbury Bake-Off competition, and in the many years of that contest GE liked to boast that there was never a single range failure.

The Frigidaire range that was just installed in the cottage is – I think – a beautifully designed stove. It is among the Frigidaire appliances that were designed by the renowned Raymond Loewy. Rather than the Calrod elements used in the GE, the engineers at Frigidaire designed the “Radiantube” burners that became a standard on Frigidaire stoves for many years. The controls for the burners are located on the front of the stove, rather than on the back dashboard, providing safe and easy access. I thought this was a good idea because the user would not have to reach across a hot pot to change the settings, but someone told me that it had more to do with costs. It was cheaper to run the wiring to the front of the stove.

At the time this stove was produced, Frigidaire was a division of General Motors, and all Frigidaire products proudly acclaimed to be “Product of General Motors.” Growing up in Detroit, a city consumed by automotive culture, the connection to these large appliances is a fitting one. With gleaming paint, lots of chrome, lights and heavy steel, one can see some parallels with the cars of the same era. GM wasn’t the only auto company in the appliance game. Nash (known later as American Motors) produced Kelvinator appliances. Automotive supplier Borg-Warner made Norge brand appliances, and Ford purchased Philco in 1961.
Frigidaire introduced the 30-inch range in 1950. While it was narrower than most of the stoves of the period (many were 36, 38, 40 or more inches wide), it provided an oven that was much larger than the big ranges. The 40-inch Frigidaires of the period had smaller ovens than the 30-inch model, so this was a big selling point. People were also updating their kitchens or moving out to the suburbs into new homes, and the 30-inch range allowed room for the modern kitchen to have additional counters, cabinets and other conveniences like a built-in dishwasher.
This Frigidaire range has three six-inch burners and one eight-inch burner. It also features a cooking timer, clock with automatic oven switch, appliance outlet, work light and broiler. It has a very deep storage drawer (larger than the GE) under the oven for pots and pans.
While we feature no recipe in this episode, we wanted to spend a little time with our beautiful vintage appliances; for without them we would not be able to prepare the meals we love to share with family and friends.


1 comment:

  1. I have one of these old GM 30' ranges,They're really well built, however when GM sold this division the manufacturing of those heavy elements ceased and are just about impossible to replace. If you find one of these stoves even as a salvage or scrap item the elements may still work as the can be easily removed and tested with a simple ohm meter. Your fan - UncleAl