It is true that microwave ovens are for fast-food lovers. They are also for people who like good food prepared quickly, without unnecessary loss of flavor or vitamins, and without heating the kitchen. Microwave ovens are useful for singles, couples, working homemakers (is there any other kind?), and families with children. But they are only useful if you learn to use them. Like food processors, word processors, and typewriters, your microwave oven will require a certain amount of study and practice before you can make the best possible use of it. Oversold owners who expect their new appliance to completely replace their ovens, broilers and crockpots will certainly be disappointed, especially if they feel that because they know how to cook, they don’t have to bother reading microwave manuals.

Before the microwave oven, all cooking was basically the same. Whether you used a campfire or the latest electric appliance, you either heated the pan or you heated the air around the food. The hot pan or the hot air cooked the food. All cooking was indirect cooking.

Microwaves heat the food directly, with no effect on the pan or the surrounding air. This direct cooking is faster, more economical, and more efficient, but it calls for different cooking methods. You have to learn them, and learn to apply them.

But is it worth the trouble and the expense? The column asked “Is it worth $600 to cook six potatoes in six times four minutes?” If that’s all the oven is used for, I don’t think so. But I also use my oven for things like pepper squash in 10 minutes, or spaghetti squash in 20. In less than half an hour, I make a chicken and potato salad, from scratch, for a picnic, or a delicious and decorative gefilte fish ring (approved by a committee of critical aunts) baked in 10 minutes for a family gathering. Your use of the oven will depend on your family’s size and tastes and your ethnic background.

A favorite meal of some of my classes is a turkey dinner, cooked in two hours. The turkey is always brown and juicy, and we make dressing, spiced apples, cranberry sauce, and a vegetable dish such as a bean casserole with crisp onion topping. We may have baked potatoes, and they don’t become “wet” because we don’t wrap them in foil or plastic wrap after baking – we use paper towel or a terry dish towel that lets the steam escape.

Different microwave ovens differ in flexibility and in cooking patterns. Most of the newer ovens cook quite evenly, and some very evenly. If you understand your own oven, you can usually get the results you want. I have had no serious difficulty with any of the three brands of oven I currently use, or the two others I used last year.

SAFETY

The microwave is a very short- radio wave that is “broadcast” into the oven cavity. On the spectrum, it comes half way between two other non- ionizing waves, the UHF and the police radio call.

As with the other non-ionizing waves, when the power is turned off, there are no more waves. When you turn off your light, the lamp won’t glow for a little while. When you turn off your radio, it won’t continue broadcasting the news. And when your microwave is turned off, there are no more microwaves in the oven or in the food.

Since microwaves cannot go through metal and the entire oven is lined with metal (the door has a metal mesh too small for microwaves), and since every oven must have two independent switches which will turn off the power before the door can be opened, the microwave is probably the safest appliance in your home.

How about leakage? Well, the only place there can be leakage is around the door. If your door is broken, or if there is a build-up of dirt preventing it from closing properly, it should be either repaired or cleaned. If you are worried, either an electrician or your manufacturer can test it for you – the “testers” you buy are not recommended.

James Van Allen, an authority on radiation for whom the Van Allen Belt around the earth is named, was asked about danger from microwave ovens. He said that you were probably in more danger of having your skin burned by moonbeams.

P.S. Frozen pizzas make a great snack, served crisp and hot five minutes after taking them from the freezer. They don’t have to be specially made for microwave. I have a browning dish.