At a time when everyone wants to know what's In and what's Out, take a minute for something that's never been Out--the blender, the appliance that wouldn't die.
Last year we bought mini-processors. The year before it was ice-cream makers and the year before that, pasta machines. Every season, houseware departments feature some new appliance that a cook has to have: a hot-air popcorn popper, a slow cooker, a carbon-monoxide decorker.
But within months, most of these brand-new items find themselves in the dusty space under the counter behind the stockpot, while the really useful appliances remain out on the counter.
That's where you find the toaster-oven, the mixer, the food processor. And in most kitchens, that's also where you find the blender.
Surviving All Changes
The blender has been around for more than 50 years, surviving every change in food fashion. It even survived the birth of the food processor.
Soon after the Cuisinart food processor was introduced at the 1973 Chicago Housewares Show, food writers rushed to let cooks know that the new machine had made their blenders--and probably their knives--obsolete.
That should have been that. But when Appliance magazine took a look at blender sales of the past 15 years, they discovered that they scarcely slumped when processors came in.
Sales of food processors are increasing every year, but blenders still outsell them: 4.8 million blenders were sold last year, compared with 3 million processors. (No thanks, by the way, to the food establishment. Cookbook writers, who take it for granted that everyone owns a processor, seldom mention the blender except to say you can make mayonnaise in it.)
"Why does everyone assume the public isn't buying blenders?" asked Larry Herd, small-appliance buyer for Bloomingdale's department store. "My blender business is very healthy."
And Anne Seranne, the author, with Eileen Gaden, of "The Blender Cookbook" (Doubleday, out of print), said dryly, "I couldn't live without my blender. Of course, I use my food processor. I use it to make dog food."
There are good reasons for the blender's continuing popularity. Blenders are inexpensive, starting at $40, while processors start at $100.
Easy to Use
Blenders are so easy to use that manufacturers don't send out demonstrators to show what they can do. ("Who needs a demo?" asked Herd. "There's no technical skill needed: You turn it on, it spins and something happens.")
Blenders are safe; you'd have to go out of your way to cut yourself on the blades.
Blenders are easy to clean: Spin some soapy water in them and they sparkle.
They last forever. You don't buy a blender; you have a blender, as you have a refrigerator. A spokeswoman for Oster said the company is always hearing from people who still have their 1946 machines. "They were tanks," she said. "Nothing ever happened to them."
Best Tool for Pureeing
But the real reason for the steady popularity of the blender is that it's the best tool for pureeing and emulsifying liquids. Eggs and oil turn effortlessly into mayonnaise, eggs and butter into hollandaise. Milk and fruit fluff up in to fruit shakes. Soups turn in to voluptuous creams, even when they start off as stringy celery, broccoli or asparagus.
That's been the case since 1922, when Sten Poplowski of Racine, Wis., invented a machine to make soda-fountain milk shakes with Horlick's, a powder made in Racine. The blender's small curved blades pulled down the liquid in the jar, smoothing and blending it.
This powerful emulsifying action makes it a cinch to make homemade mayonnaise, even for a couple of tuna salad sandwiches. You crack an egg into the container with half a teaspoon of dry mustard, half a teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar. Spin the motor briefly, then slowly drizzle in a cup of olive oil, vegetable oil or a mixture of the two until the mayonnaise is thick.
Although blenders can't slice, they can do a lot of the simple chopping and mincing that people are buying mini-processors to do. You just have to know how, according to Seranne.
Start by turning on the machine. Drop in parsley sprigs, peeled garlic or chunks of carrot, onto the spinning blades. Use the same technique to grate coconut, chop dry cheese or shred strips of frozen lemon peel.
Better Than Processors
Blenders are better than processors at any job involving a small volume. East Indian and Hispanic cooks grind spices in the blender.
"In Mexico you can't cook without a blender," said Zarella Martinez, chef at Manhattan's Cafe Marimba. "It's taken the place of the mortar and pestle. When my mother was publicizing a book on Mexican home cooking, she traveled all over with a blender in her suitcase."
Since the craze for Caribbean and Mexican food brought back crushed-ice blender drinks--the margaritas, pina coladas and daiquiris of the '50s--the blender has had a new surge of popularity.