Like many great inventions, the microwave oven was a by-product of another technology. Developed in 1946 by Dr Percy Spencer, a specialist in radar research, the first oven was almost two metres high and weighed over 300 kilograms.

Born in 1894 and forced to leave school to find a job at the age of 14, Percy Spencer had ‘an itch’ for knowledge. He studied text books at night to work out how to introduce electricity to a local paper mill. He took a shine to wireless technology and joined the navy as a wireless operator. Subsequently he was seconded to a company that realised electricity could vastly improve life in the home. And during WW2 he helped developed the radar technology that helped the allies.

It took time for microwave ovens to be refined and modernised but by 1975 sales in the United States surpassed those of conventional gas ovens. Around 1980 the first domestic microwave ovens were introduced to New Zealand kitchens.

Today most homes and businesses in this country sport a microwave. Many dishes cooked in a conventional oven or on the hob can be cooked in the microwave using a fraction of the power and up to one-third of the cooking time.


Giving dessert a wave.

3 tablespoons each: firmly packed brown sugar, butter (softened), 
2 tablespoons finely chopped glace ginger
1/4 cup each: finely chopped walnuts, chopped pitted prunes
4 Granny Smith apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine the butter, brown sugar, ginger, walnuts and prunes in a bowl. 

Core the apples. Peel the top quarter of each. Brush with the lemon juice.

Spoon the ginger mixture into the cored centres, mounding it over the top.

Arrange the apples in a deep microwave-proof dish. Cover and cook on high (100%) power for 8 minutes or until just cooked. 

Transfer the apples to serving plates and spoon the cooking liquid over them. Excellent served with custard or ice cream. Serves 4.


The microwave comes into its own when making sauces.

150g dried fettuccine 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil  
1/2 red chilli, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and patted dry
6 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
4 anchovy filets, drained and chopped  
1 teaspoon each: crushed garlic, dried oregano, basil
400g can chopped tomatoes
Cook the pasta conventionally according to the packet instructions.

Heat the oil on high in a deep microwave-proof bowl for 30 seconds. Add the chilli, capers, olives, anchovies, garlic and herbs and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Drain the cooked pasta well. Immediately plunge it into the sauce. Mix well. 

Serve in large bowls. Great topped with shaved parmesan cheese, fresh basil leaves and Italian parsley. Serves 2.


Skewered veg as a side.

1 large carrot
2 tablespoons water
8 broccoli florets
4 cauliflower florets,
25g butter
3 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs eg, parsley, mint, thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)

Cut the carrot into 2.5cm rounds. Place in a shallow microwave dish in a single layer. Sprinkle with half the water. Cover and microwave on high for 1 minute.

The florets should measure about 3cm across. Thread the carrots on wooden skewers alternately with the broccoli and cauliflower. 

Place on a microwave plate and sprinkle with the remaining water. Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes until crisp tender. Place aside.
Meanwhile, place the butter, herbs and garlic in a small bowl. Microwave until the butter is melted, about 30 seconds. Drizzle over the vegetables. Serves 4. 


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