Photo credit: KitchenAid
Decades after Julia Child first taught us that cooking could be an elevated affair—or at least not involve ingredients straight out of a can—mainstream national culture has finally caught on. Sure, it took years of food-themed reality competition shows, at-home sous vide machines, and wave upon bearded wave of artisanal organic pickle makers, but getting one’s hands dirty in the kitchen is now widely considered a noble pursuit.
Nowadays, we think differently about one kitchen appliance in particular: the stand mixer. Once upon a time, a person purchased (or received) a stand mixer to mark a marriage, a new apartment, or some other life milestone. Now, the stand mixer is the milestone.
In a series of interviews with readers over Facebook, Twitter, and email, it was clear that the decision to purchase a stand mixer was generally a weighty one. Not exactly shocking, considering that most went with KitchenAid or Cuisinart mixers that can cost upwards of $350 (and tend to monopolize precious counter space). We found, however, that what the stand mixer truly represents is a new life phase—one in which cooking plays a newly major role—and that’s what’s so fascinating about it.
For Sue Ichel, who purchased her candy apple–red KitchenAid about five years ago, snagging a stand mixer was an emotional decision.
"I had just had a terrible breakup, left an awful job and moved to a new city," she told us. "I wanted to make wonderful things that were meant for me to eat, and not for some awful old boyfriend or awful former boss… It was a rite of passage. I was good enough to treat myself and I didn’t need to wait for someone to gift it to me.”
Steven Weiss bought his first stand mixer as a bachelor about 10 years ago, after developing an interest in bread baking. ”I’d venture it played an important role in courting my wife with homemade bread, and has similarly marked much of our family’s life together since,” Weiss said. Since then, bread has “become a weekly-or-more staple in our home.”
Gifted stand mixers had particular meaning, too. Cecily McAndrews was given a red KitchenAid upon her graduation from culinary school. And Michal Otten received hers as a wedding present, which she and her mother promptly used to make Otten's wedding cake.
Hope Heller, a prolific baker, received hers as a gift when she became engaged. But she now rejects the traditional notion that a person—usually a woman—only receives a stand mixer on the occasion of her marriage.
"When I was having a really bad day once when I was single, my friend promised if I wasn’t married by either 35 or 40 she would buy me one for my birthday, which is actually really silly," Heller told us. "Probably if I wasn’t married at this point, I would have already just bought my own, because I like to think we have evolved past the [notion that] you have to be married to be deserving of things."
This writer, as it happens, doesn’t yet own a stand mixer. I suppose I’ve been waiting for the right moment, the right milestone. But maybe it’s already here.