“Mom said that living so many places because of Dad’s military career allowed us to live a different lifestyle in each place,” says Grant. After Smith’s husband retired from the Army, the Smiths built a house with a well-equipped kitchen for the lifestyle they had wanted to live.
But Smith never got to see how far the fruits of her labor impacted the world. She died about a year after Microwave Cooking for One came out.
“Well, unfortunately, the house was built on an old phosphate mine,” says Grant. “Mom developed lung cancer from it. The book came out in ‘86. She died on November 5th, 1987. After my Mom was diagnosed, my Dad had the house tested and it was loaded with Radon. Other than that, I don't want to think about it. But she got to see her book go to print and she's still… you know, she's still helping people.”
“I took Dad over to see [the house] in 2018 and we met the current owners. When Dad died, I brought them over a copy of Mom's book as a thank you for their kindness.”
As of 2020, 34 years after the book came out, over 10,000 copies of Microwave Cooking for One have sold, Grant estimates.
“Oh, I know people think of it as a gag,” adds Grant. And yes, she’s seen it on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon’s Do Not Read List, Good Morning America, Reddit, and other blogs. “I understand the humor and think it’s great because every time, there have been people who responded, defending the book, saying that they have a copy and what a great book it is.”
Like chain restaurants, plastic straws, and malls, the microwave has suffered a slow burnout followed by fluctuating sales. As of 2017, the average American spent well over 100 dollars per year on small appliances, but overall microwave sales dropped from 13.9 million to 9.2 million per year between the years of 2007 to 2013. Interestingly, they rose again in 2019 to just under 13.5 million.
Still, all these years later, Grant swears by her mother’s recipes. To date, her favorite microwavable meal is stuffed shrimp -- another relic from her mother -- and she still marvels at how far this innocuous kitchen appliance took her family. She now runs the aptly-named site Microwavecookingforone.com, handling online orders and PR for her mother’s book. The website averages between 8,000 to 10,000 page views a day.
Microwave cooking isn’t held in the same high regard as it was in 1986. People seem the microwave as a cheap trick; something you use to heat up butter or fry bacon when you’re not feeling up to using a skillet. Yet some 90% of households in America own a microwave anyway -- every apartment I’ve ever rented has had one placed innocuously above a stove. But up until I read this book, I barely touched used it, save for the occasional warmed-up tortilla or microwave mug cake that people seem to love so much.
Aside from creating hundreds upon hundreds of recipes for any occasion, Smith and Grant reframed the microwave in a different light. Ironically, Microwave Cooking for One achieves the opposite effect most assume; it brings people together -- admittedly, sometimes for the wrong reasons, but sometimes in solidarity. Like the kitchen appliance, it’s named after, Microwave Cooking for One is too quickly dismissed as a joke. If you go beneath the surface and crack the cover, you’ll find a book with a heart that was written by a passionate woman who simply loved making food.