A Light Forever Dimmed

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but, apparently, it adores symmetry. On February 16, 1992, one of the people who indelibly shaped my life—my maternal grandmother—died. Feelings of security and optimism and a sense of self, now so resolute that they seem hardwired into my DNA, got their toehold in quiet afternoons cooking with her at her ancient white stove, a triple layer of cardboard wedged under one shapely leg—the stove’s, not hers.

This February 16th, someone else who had an impact on my life died. It’s not, mercifully, The One, a family member, or a friend. But still, my life got a little dimmer—by about 100 watts. The person: Ronald Howes, Sr.

In the early ‘60s, Mr. Howes invented the toy that, powered by two low-watt light bulbs, came to delight battalions of little girls—and me: Kenner’s Easy-Bake Oven. Just as my grandmother found ways of shunting my breathtaking lack of athletic prowess into hours of cooking, Mr. Howes gave me an out. And an outlet. Whenever my three cousins—Barry, TJ, and Jeff—would ask me to go out and play some form of ball (whether base, foot, or basket), I had an excuse. “I’m baking cakes with Claire,” I’d shout through the window. Claire, another cousin, was the official owner of a harvest gold Easy-Bake Oven. And when the inevitable and expected ridicule was heaped on me, I would bake with a fury.

I remember pushing the low, flat tin of batter in one side of the oven with a plastic tool and waiting those impossibly long minutes—how many? Three, four, eight, twelve?—until I could retrieve it from the other side, the cake now domed, warm, and screaming, “Eat me, David! Eat me now!” So enamored of the oven was I that I actually stole one from a neighbor on Lindsey Street in Fall River, MA. Yes, I committed a felony in the name of American baked goods. How I snuck out of her third-floor tenement with the oven under my coat, slid it into my parents’ old blue Buick with a front grill that looked like an encyclopedia salesman’s glinty smile, and set it up in the basement is beyond me. But the compulsion for coconut cake knows no bounds.

As I grew, that primary need to be close to my grandmother and all her kitchenry had to be replaced by more appropriate things (“Otherwise, how will the boy get along?” I heard muttered from my parents’ bedroom at night). So, in the name of Little League and Cub Scouts, I began to lose the connection to the two most important stoves in my life: I stepped off the chair my grandmother had always dragged to the counter so I could cook at her side, and I lost track of my pilfered Easy-Bake Oven.

Childhood rushes headlong into adolescence, which beats a hasty path to adulthood, which only reluctantly agrees to middle age. At the half-century mark, I’ve forgotten the name of that little girl, the poor victim of my crime. Gone are my cousins’ words that cut. Vanished, even, is my grandmother’s house, which was ripped down in favor of a highway. What remains? The memory of that stove. Squat, plastic, and perfect. Perhaps Mr. Howes understood the true secret of toys (he was, after all, part of the team that created the amazing Spirograph). It’s not so much the fleeting joy of playing as a child, but rather the enduring pleasure as an adult of remembering we once played.

David Leite's signature

Editor’s Note: How did Mr. Howes’ Easy-Bake Oven sweeten your childhood? Share your memories, your pre-teen baking disasters, or the launch of your pastry-chef career here by leaving a comment.

Comments

  1. I got my Easy-Bake Oven when I was 11 years old. My parents definitely thought I was too old for this “toy,” and I rarely got gifts when it wasn’t a holiday or birthday. But I begged my parents so much for my own “oven” that they finally broke down and bought it for me. About this same time, boys would knock on our door and ask my mother if I was home to get together with me. I thought they were interested in me but as soon as they’d see my Easy-Bake Oven, their interests turned from childhood romance to playing with my oven. I was surprised that they liked it so much but had a great time “baking” with them!

  2. I never had an EZ Bake oven–whenever I asked for one, my mother said “we have a REAL oven; why would you need a toy one?” But to her credit, she did let me use the “real” oven, even at a young age (and with older-sibling supervision). My nephew got one a few years back, and the thrill of slowly baking tiny cakes quickly wore off–he’s on to the “real” oven as well. (I subsequently gave him a set of silicone bakeware, and he’s now begging his restaurateur-father for a “real” Hobart mixer.)

    1. My mother said the same thing when I asked for one! But then again, she never had a Barbie doll, so it only seems fitting that she never gave me an Easy-Bake oven.

      1. Me, too! Everytime I asked my mom, she would offer to bake something with me in the real oven. Not the same as making a cake in your bedroom, is it?

  3. Ahhh, memmories. I still have my turquoise-blue model in its original box, circa 1963. I’ve never been able to part with it. I baked my first cake for the boy next door and was impossibly teased for it. I remember that the cost of the mixes were pricey for my family, so I didn’t get them very often. I believe my parents gave me my oven because I showed an early interest in baking, and I still consider myself more of a baker than a cook.

    1. Clearly you’re better off having made due without the mixes, given my and others’ recollection about their flavor. The chocolate brownies actually reminded me of how I imagined the little paper or foil mix packets tasted. Trust me, you’re one of the lucky ones!

  4. It’s so interesting. I don’t have children, so the Easy-Bake oven is frozen in time and place for me. I almost DON’T want to know it’s evolved and changed. I want today’s kids to use that blocky turquoise oven to bake cakes and brownies unevenly. But as you all mention, it’s good to get kids cooking/baking earlier. I wonder, since the trend to invite children into the kitchen is gaining momentum, if more boys are baking with the oven, or if Hasbro is planning to make it the oven gender neutral?

    1. I don’t remember what color my 5-year-old granddaughter’s Easy-Bake is, but her 11-year-old brother wouldn’t hesitate to bake with her and her oven. His real passion is sports, but he loves cooking, too. Plus he’s a good big brother.

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Attach it below. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Upload a picture of your dish