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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Easy-Bake Oven Deprivation Syndrome

Over the last few months, I’ve done quite a few blog entries on toys of the past.  And why wouldn’t I?  Like most kids, I loved playing with all sorts of different toys and games.  In fact, I reckon that I played with some toys that some of my peers never played with, simply because a good portion of my toys growing up were hand-me-downs, secondhand, or bought at garage sales.  I don’t remember too many kids my age who can say that they ever played an Intellivision, a Merlin, or an authentic Fisher-Price record player. 

There were some toys that came out when I was a little boy that I really wanted to play with, but for whatever reason never did.  I remember growing up, I always wanted to have so many toys that my classmates had.  When I was in school, I remember wanting to have a sandbox just like the one that we played in during kindergarten.  I loved the sandbox in school.  I built sandcastles in it, I drew my name with a twig in it, and one time in kindergarten, I tried to bury a kid who was teasing me inside of it.  That last one didn’t work out very well, for obvious reasons. 

Whatever the case, I really wanted my own sandbox, but my parents couldn’t afford to buy me one.  So instead, I had to settle for spraying the garden hose in the backyard and making a mud pit, which REALLY made my parents happy.

I also remember wanting to have that toy which contained a whole bunch of miniature muscle men figurines inside a small bucket.  I really don’t know what they were called upon retrospect, but I imagine a lot of men my age know what I am talking about.  When I did a brief stint with Beavers, we had a Christmas party where we all got presents, and I remember a lot of the boys there had gotten those muscle men figurines.  I wanted them too because I thought they were the coolest toys ever.  Imagine my disappointment when I got a Ninja costume instead.  A rather lame looking Ninja costume at that.  I never did get those muscle men.  Of course now I can look at that moment and think that it was lovely for the organization to give every child there a gift.  Back when I was five, I wanted desperately to trade with someone else.

But here’s a little bit of a confession for you.  There was one toy that I never got as a child, but somehow still wanted.  And, here’s the weird part.  This toy was one that was marketed towards girls!

For whatever reason, I wanted one of these.  Yet, I never got one.  And, even though I would have likely been made fun of mercilessly (even more than I usually did) for owning one, there was a part of me that still wanted one.  And, there’s still a part of me that feels as though I missed out on childhood for not having one.

With that, here’s the toy that I always wanted, but never got.

No, I didn’t post the wrong picture.  You are looking at a photograph of an Easy-Bake Oven, a toy that was originally manufactured by toy company Kenner in 1963, and have helped children make tasty treats for themselves and their families for almost fifty years.

I don’t care who knows it.  When I was a kid, I wanted an Easy-Bake Oven.

I know it sounds peculiar.  It actually sounds strange to me, especially as my idea of cooking is reheating something that was already previously cooked. 

I’m being absolutely serious about this as well.  You really don’t want me anywhere near a kitchen because I’ll either A) chop off two of my own fingers, B) somehow get a tablespoon of lemon juice sprayed into my eyes, or C) burn down the entire apartment building. 

My reason for wanting an Easy-Bake Oven as a boy was solely to satisfy my sweet tooth.  I have a condition known as an insatiable sweet tooth, and with dozens of recipe packets for cakes, cookies, and other delicious sweets, having my own Easy-Bake Oven would net me all the sweets I could eat.  And the best part about it was that I could make the treats myself.

You know, come to think of it, having an Easy-Bake Oven would have likely given me more confidence in the kitchen today had I owned one in my childhood.  But, alas, we’ll never know if that would have made a difference.

At any rate, the history behind the creation of the Easy-Bake Oven is a fascinating one.  The inventor of the Easy-Bake Oven was a man by the name of Ronald Howes, who in 1963 worked for Kenner Toys as an inventor and developer.  After hearing some Kenner salesmen talking about street vendors in New York City roasting chestnuts, Howes believed that he could use the process to develop a new toy.  He went out to the streets of New York to do his own observations, and found that street vendors used heat lamps to keep their food hot.

So, Howes’ idea was to design a base for the toy that looked like a then-modernized 1960s convection oven.  Then, Howes would place two one hundred watt incandescent light bulbs (in either yellow or turquoise colour) inside the oven.  He theorized that the heat given off by the two light bulbs would produce enough heat to cook a small cake (these days though, the newest models of the Easy-Bake Oven come equipped with a heating element, making the light bulbs obsolete). 

The first Easy-Bake Oven went on sale in 1963, and over the years would undergo several design and packaging changes.  Many commercials were made to promote the Easy-Bake Oven. 

Here’s one from the 1970s for you to watch above.

And here’s some trivia for you.  The Easy-Bake Oven featured several young girls on the packaging demonstrating how the toy worked.  One of these girls was actress Amy Yasbeck, of “Wings” and “Problem Child” fame.  The things you learn from the Internet Movie Database.  J

Each Easy-Bake Oven came with the oven playset, a set of small round pans, and three cake mixes.  There were dozens of other cake mixes in various flavours that were sold separately as well.  All one would have to do was mix the cake mix with water, pour the mixture in a pan, stick it in the Easy-Bake Oven through the designated slot for a few minutes, and when it was finished cooking, it would come out the other side.

One thing I’ve always wondered was if the cakes ended up tasting bakery fresh.  I’m 31, and I’ve never sampled anything that was cooked in an Easy-Bake Oven, so I’m not even aware of how good the food was inside of them.  But given that over twenty million units of the Easy-Bake Oven have been sold since they were first introduced, I’m sure that they ended up tasting all right.

Over the years, the Easy-Bake Oven has expanded its product line to include more desserts.  And with the creation of the Easy-Bake Oven and Snack Center in 1993, children could make cookies and brownies in addition to cake mixes.  And in 1997, Easy-Bake Oven would incorporate other brand names into their cake mixes such as Oreo and M&M’s.  Have a look!

Okay, now I want a green M&M Easy-Bake Oven cake.

Of course, the history of the Easy-Bake Oven hasn’t been without its blunders.  One of the biggest blunders of the company occurred just five years ago when almost one million units were forced to be recalled due to a manufacturing defect.

Oh, wait...that was a clip of an Easy-Bake Oven commercial spoof from MAD-TV. 

No, in 2006, Hasbro (which bought the rights to produce the toy from Kenner) released a new version of the oven, which introduced front-loading technology.  It was meant to be designed like a modernized range, where the front door opened up, and children could just stick the pans in the way a parent would normally use an adult oven.  But after the company received reports and complaints from parents whose children sustained serious injuries from the oven, the company was forced to recall the new design in early 2007.  As many as 249 children were injured, some sustaining second and third degree burns, and in some rare cases, even partial finger amputation!

For the most part though, the Easy-Bake Oven has been a well-loved toy for generations of children, and I’m sure that a lot of you have your own memories of baking tasty goodies in your own Easy-Bake Ovens.  What are some of your memories of this toy?  And was it worth having?

Sincerely yours,
An Easy-Bake Oven Deprived 30-Something.

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