Dispatches from Humpty Dumpty

I’ve had a standing debate with the man I eventually married about the evils (he calls them wonders) of the microwave. I conceded a long time ago that they are good for heating milk for coffee (which I do every morning), and good enough for re-heating old coffee (which I do occasionally). They can also be handy for heating and re-freshing a piece of cake or bread about to go stale, to then be dressed with a few scrapings of hard, cold butter which spreads beautifully after 30 seconds or so.

But when it comes to baking bread or potatoes, forget it.

Then there was the recent feature in the New York Times on the “wonders” of microwaving; Mark BIttman waxing lyrical about things to do with brinjals/aubergines/eggplant that involves a cooking time of less than 10 minutes to produce soft and juicy morsels. I tried that recipe, and while it was interesting enough (a mildly crispy layer of curried coconut on soft vegetable flesh), I’m not sure it trumps the oven in any way, even time-wise.

Then there was the steamed pudding, which I couldn’t resist, mainly because I have a particular strength for the mouthfeel of steamed puddings. Bittman supplied a recipe for a chocolate pudding from Barbara Kafka (yes, the name is ominous), but I wasn’t in the mood for chocolate, and I had a mango that needed eating, so I turned it into a mango-ginger-Chinese lemon pudding. As per instruction, I “cooked” it on high for 4-5 minutes, then let it stand a bit, then (non-per-instructions) doused it with rum and gave it another minute before serving it up with Aylesbury vanilla fudge ice-cream (which is good, but sounds better than it is: basically vanilla with a couple of swirls).

Well, watching the thing cooking was the most fascinating part. It bubbled and seethed and threatened to explode, but then turned into a wet but solid piece of confectionary. Hot, with ice-cream, it made a fine dessert (and I believe we all had second helpings), but it wasn’t the mouthfeel I was expecting at all. It was a pudding, but not a steamed pudding like Christmas pudding with its dense, crumbly, moist (yes, Nigella) texture.

I have no idea about the chemistry, and I may very well have offended the sailor in residence (who, like me, is a disciple of the “from scratch” doctrine, which involves steaming a pudding for the eight hours that it takes to cook a mixture of eggs, butter, sugar, flour et. al. over just-boiling water), but it was – in its way – a righteous thing to do. And to eat.

I won’t be rushing to microwave my desserts from now on, but I can if I have to. Which is to say more than my ability to convince students of the necessity of being students. They fuck you up, to lighten the mood with a little Philip Larkin, they really do. And on days when you feel like Humpty Dumpty, the microwave not be so evil after all. (Chocolate cake in 5 minutes, anyone?)

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