While scouring decades old Sears catalogs for my book, I discovered that there was a brief moment in which Merry Mushrooms microwave cookware was available.
It was the end of the 1970s, a decade filled with gas shortages, stagflation, disco, the end of Vietnam, flared pants, social justice movements, and the introduction of computers and 911. Add into this mix the proliferation of the microwave oven, which was invented in 1947. By 1967, the ovens were small and sort of affordable enough to appear in American kitchens. In the mid-1970s, microwave ovens were outselling gas ranges and were found in 60% of homes. To capitalize on the rise of the time-saving cooking method, community colleges, test kitchens, and housewares companies and began offering microwave cooking classes, cookbooks, and cookware.
Sears was no different. Looking in catalogs from 1978 and 1979, Merry Mushrooms decals were affixed to several Thermo-plastic products. These include: a baking ring (Bundt pan), cake pan, a set of 3 casserole dishes, a Dutch oven, muffin pan, pie plate, popcorn popper, roast pan with cover, roast rack, serving dishes with a tray, and a slow cooker.
Other cookware appear alongside these items, though no fungi are discernable on these items: bacon rack, cookie sheet, round lid, and divided plates with covers.
Even though microwave cooking was reasonably popular for about a decade, the cookware, with or without Merry Mushrooms, was offered for only a short time. To date I've never seen any of these items in person or anywhere online.
Do you have any Merry Mushrooms microwave cookware? I'd love to see it!
UPDATE 5/30/21: Microwave cookware has been confirmed!
I came across this set of three round metal (aluminum?) enameled containers at the tiny The Shepherd's Attic thrift store in the equally small farming community of Chilton, Wisconsin.
This set absolutely caught my eye and made my heart jump. How did I not know about this?! The covered bowls nest cozily inside each other, which is how I found it. Taking off the largest lid, I found another container with a lid, and then the smallest, also with a lid.
Closer inspection revealed that it is not official Sears Merry Mushrooms. The mushroom decal, while nearly identical in layout and style, has green-orange-red mushrooms, and not orange-brown-red. The addition of tiny red-orange flowers with white centers also sets these apart. Both changes are likely an effort to get around copyright issues. (See? Our design is totally different!)
Unfortunately, neither the containers nor soft plastic lids are marked. Searching online, there are many similar sets, but most don't have lids and are more bowl-shaped. Below are the ones that most resemble the mushrooms. The middle set with fruit is marked "Tabletops Unlimited," and the set on the right with bright pink roses is marked "GMI."
If you're interested, our thrifting tour follows HWY 57/32 north from where they split from I-43 in Saukville, Wisconsin. It was first traced by my parents over 20 years ago when we would visit my sister at Lawrence University in Appleton.
The shops along the way are:
Recently, the dangerous business of digging through bins of kitchenware at thrift stores finally paid off when I found this Merry Mushrooms carving knife. It is in rough shape but it is undeniably part of the collection. And for a very affordable $.99. But when I took a closer look, something clicked and I realized that the handle designs changed!
The carving set, a large two-tined fork and long bladed knife, appeared alongside the hanging kitchen tool set and tableware set in only one catalog in 1975. Though the picture quality from the catalog isn't the best, it's clear that the mushroom design runs vertically on the handles (below),
In the next catalog, the carving set disappears. However, the hanging kitchen tool set now has a different design, one it keeps in every catalog thereafter. This design is the much more familiar three mushroom one, slightly stretched vertically and placed in the center of the handles. The tableware handle design appears to remain the original long vertical line of mushrooms. I suppose the size and shape of spoon, knife, and fork handles made the original design the best choice.
The changing handle design is one mystery solved. But what about the rounded, and not pointed, tip on my knife? The extreme wear suggests that it was used frequently and for a long time so the previous owner may have replaced the blade. Or, as my husband suggested, assembly ran out of pointed blades and substituted rounded ones.
One of the most interesting and unusual Merry Mushrooms pieces is the Ice Cooler/Stool. Billed in the only catalog it appears in as "great for patio, kitchen, boat, etc.", this cooler is 21" high and 14 1/2" in diameter.
Because it has such apparent limited availability, I was very surprised (so was the cat) to find one listed on eBay. Given its age and the fact it has been used, it is in great condition. Before I could justify spending the money, it sold on less than a day later on July 29, 2020 for the buy it now price of $150.00.
Are you the lucky buyer? Are you going to use it on your boat? Send pics!
How did I miss this?! The listing on letgo.com only says it sold 1+ month ago, so it may be years. Whoever bought all this for $22 was very, very lucky. However, because it was sold to benefit a no-kill animal shelter makes me wish the lot went for so much more.
Look! There are two plant water spikes! A round cheese board with the cover! And the teapot! There are even original boxes lurking in the background. Though I missed out on this, it is exciting to see the plant water spikes in the wild.
Available in one mid-1970s catalog, this was the second Merry Mushrooms slow cooker offered. This one was seen in the wild on eBay.
According to The McCoy Pottery Collector's Society, McCoy was sold to Lancaster Colony Corporation in 1974 and quickly changed all the marks but still used the McCoy name. It is exciting to discover the maker, a fact which isn't listed in the catalog. Makes me wonder if Lancaster Colony Corporation didn't pay Sears to have the brand name listed.
Though missing the hot plate, this slow cooker sold for $39.00 plus shipping on July 7, 2020.
ow thrilling was it to see these on eBay! Unfortunately for my bank account, the bidding quickly sent the price well over $200.00 at the time of this writing. In any event, it's a treat to see this complete and well cared-for set of 4 mixing bowls. And to find that they are Anchor Hocking Fire King Brand cook ware. Once again, the brand name wasn't included in the catalog so likely the company didn't pay Sears to have it listed.
Interestingly, these oven-proof glass Fire King bowls appear in the same catalog as the Corning Ware and PYREX Saucepans and Skillets, and Corning Ware and PYREX were named in the catalog.
UPDATE: The set sold for a whopping $267.99 on July 15, 2020!
UPDATE 11/22/2020: Another complete set sold for $185.59 on November 15, 2020.
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