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Death notice

MIXMASTER, Sunbeam

Passed away peacefully

Stephanie Wood's vintage Sunbeam mix master.

Stephanie Wood's vintage Sunbeam mix master.

January 26, 2013

Aged 67 years.

Late of Sydney. Loving appliance of Stephanie. Relatives and friends are advised that a private memorial service for Sunbeam was held in Stephanie’s kitchen on January 26.

Respected and cherished friend to all her knew her, Sunbeam leaves behind a calorific legacy that will not be forgotten.

It’s time. Time for a farewell. I couldn’t let go. For too long I was in denial. But no more. It’s time to give my old Sunbeam Mixmaster, circa 1946, a decent burial.

On the morning of January 26, as I prepared to plug in the old, yellowed Sunbeam Mixmaster to whip up some egg whites and sugar for a non-nationalistic, non-jingoistic, contemporary and socially inclusive pavlova, I suddenly remembered (how could I have forgotten?) … the Christmas present lying in an unopened box in a kitchen cupboard. And there they were: brand, spanking, gleaming new red electric hand beaters in a fetching inner-urban sort of a design.

The Sunbeam Mixmaster that has been a fixture on the various kitchen benches I’ve called my own over the past few years was pushed to the side. The brand, spanking, gleaming new red electric hand beaters were deployed on the egg whites, then the sugar. And within seconds — seconds, I say — I had a mighty mixmaster epiphany: it doesn’t have to be hard work. Creaming butter and sugar, making a cake, whipping up a pav — it doesn’t have to be hard work.

The recipes for sponges cakes and steamed puddings, melting moments and meringues, well, they don’t say, do they — “Stand in front of your mixmaster uttering obscenities and, from time to time, use your fingers to get the mixmaster bowl that’s inexplicably stopped spinning, spinning again and, after maybe half an hour, when the mixture in the bowl is no longer identifiable and doesn’t look at all what you’re pretty sure it should look like, then, maybe, you can think about turning the beaters off and trying, with both hands and one foot on the kitchen cupboard for leverage, to pull the beaters out of the mixmaster, being careful not to pull the mixmaster, bowl, beaters and mix off the bench.”? Nowhere in my cookbooks does it say that the home cook should make the cake-making process look like he or she is auditioning for a revival of The Three Stooges.

My mixmaster epiphany: nostalgia has no place when it comes to kitchen appliances. It’s all very well to linger in the past with your velvet cakes and your foundation biscuits, your London fingers and your ginger fluffs, but if you’re going to do so, do so with a piece of equipment made in the 21st century.

“Whisk eggwhite in an electric mixer until soft peaks form, then gradually add sugar, beating and scraping down sides until sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and glossy.”

Hand on my heart, I had no idea that egg whites and sugar, at least in the hands of an amateur such as I, could become smooth and glossy. In my Sunbeam Mixmaster, circa 1946, egg whites and sugar scaled no peaks of note. A hillock or two if I was lucky.

And yet on January 26, in the efficient hands of my brand, spanking, gleaming new red electric hand beaters, and within seconds, I had a bloody Great Dividing Range of soft peaks. And as glossy as an edition of French Vogue. Needless to say, when I spread my soft peaks evenly with a palette knife on my oven tray lined with baking paper, I felt thoroughly pleased with myself. (As I did when I turned the oven off 20 or so minutes later when the top was slightly crisp, just as the recipe said it should be.)

I imagine I felt about as pleased as the early-adopter Brisbane housewives of the early ’30s did after trying out their new modern electrical gadget: In the National Library of Australia’s fabulous Trove site, the first mention of a Sunbeam Mixmaster I can find is in The Brisbane Courier on Friday, 16 June, 1933 — in a neatly illustrated advertisement for Chandlers’ Lighting and Heating Specialists. The ad notes that “modern electrical appliances have many decided advantages over those they supersede”, then explains:

“The “Sunbeam” Mixmaster is the latest electrical labour-saving device, designed to aid busy cooks. Its primary use is that of mixing cake ingredients, but among the multitude of uses, the Mixmaster will mix drinks and salad dressings, mash potatoes, beat eggs, and also extract juice from fruit. To see this appliance at work is really interesting. Ask Chandlers to demonstrate.”

A year or so later, an ad in the West Australian said of the new-fangled Sunbeam device: “The saver of time and labour to every housewife. It will mix your cakes, peel the potatoes, and attend to many other duties. Price £9.” 

I never peeled potatoes in my Sunbeam Mixmaster, circa 1946, but despite my Three Stooges struggles with it, I developed a certain affection for it, and not least because it gave my kitchen a Frankie-esque vintage vibe. It made me think of my grandmother, although it seems not to have been my grandmother’s (family information is that hers met its maker years ago and mine was one of my mother’s op-shop finds). Still, turning that thick black Bakelite “Mixfinder Dial” (“scientifically correct for every type of mixture”) from “Mixing Cookies” to “Whipping Potatoes” to “Creaming Butter and Sugar”, I could not help but feel some connection to the strong, remarkable women preceding me in my family tree.

I won’t feel that connection when I use my new red electric hand beaters and I know there’s not a chance they’ll achieve the grand old age of my Sunbeam, but I’m confident that with them, my baking endeavours in the future will be a far more suitable tribute all those women who knew and loved my old Sunbeam.

RIP.

(NB: and that pavlova recipe? It’s here and it’s brilliant.)

stephanie.wood@fairfaxmedia.com.au

@StephanieAWood1