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Kitchen Disasters: Catastrophes readers lived to tell about

Whether it ended with a trip to the emergency room, flames or merely a close call, most cooks have experienced some sort of disaster.

Many are the result of human error: falling asleep, forgetting about the pan on the stove or the roast on the counter, getting distracted by a favorite video on MTV. Funny or frustrating or both, they’re likely experiences you want to forget but very well might remember forever.

In honor of April Fools’ Day today, readers submitted some of their favorite kitchen catastrophes. There wasn’t enough room, so stories have been shortened. Many more can be found online at The Spokesman-Review’s Too Many Cooks blog at

In no particular order, here are a few lessons in what not to do – along with, hopefully, quite a few chuckles.

Water watching

As a kitchen manager, I once hired a woman for the position of dining room hostess. She had no restaurant experience but possessed a friendly personality and claimed she was good at remembering names and faces.

On her first day of orientation, while touring the kitchen, my lead cook accidentally slopped a bit of water onto the floor. “Watch that water,” she told the new employee as she went off in search of a mop and bucket. I was suddenly called away to address a different situation, leaving the new hire alone in the kitchen.

Ten minutes later I returned to find the rookie bent over and intently staring at that puddle of water.

David Michaelson, of Harrington

Timing isn’t everything

Years ago, I had a new stove that let you set the timer for the oven to start by itself. We practiced having the oven come on before we actually tried using it to make sure we understood this new feature.

When we left for work one morning, we carefully set the timer to start at 2 p.m. When I arrived home at 4:30 p.m. I fully expected to be greeted by the aroma of a roast. There was nothing.

Sure enough, the oven was working perfectly, but there sat the roast – on the counter. After all of that careful planning and checking, I had forgotten to put the roast in the oven.

Sally Bean, of Veradale

For no mere mortal can resist the video of the thriller

One Saturday afternoon I was making bread for my family. It was time to separate the dough into five loaves, so I put ¼ cup of Crisco shortening into a loaf pan and turned a burner onto high to melt it – just like I had done for 15 years. It would only take about 45 seconds.

Then my three teenage daughters yelled to me that “Thriller” was on TV. My favorite! So, yes, indeed, I went to the living room for a look.

In no time, there seemed to be movement coming from the kitchen. I glanced over and saw nothing. Again, I looked, and nothing seemed amiss.

Finally, something just didn’t feel right, so I stepped around the corner and saw bright yellow flames shooting so high over the stove that they were getting into the fan and cupboards.

My husband threw the pan outside, and I had a real mess to clean up. Now, whenever my family sees “Thriller,” we all break into the story of how Mom nearly burned the house down watching MTV.

Molly Destefano, of Spokane Valley

Hawaii egg-uh-oh

I was probably 19 and living on Maui when I set a pan on the stove and filled it with water to hard-boil several eggs. It was a good-sized pan, and it was taking a long time, so I forgot about it and went to bed. I awoke sometime later to what sounded like gunshots. The eggs were exploding one by one.

Once I realized what was happening, I went to the kitchen and discovered the burned eggs had shot out of the pan and into the air, where they were sliced, diced and distributed throughout the kitchen by the ceiling fan, which was, of course, running in the warm climate.

Lorri Stonehocker, of Spokane Valley

Dryer buns

It was 1969, and I was 22 and decided to surprise my new husband with homemade cinnamon rolls. As the filling was the best part, I decided to double those ingredients. Painstakingly, I rolled up the dough with all of the goo and cut it into big fat rolls.

My husband would be home soon and, wanting the house to smell good for him when he walked in the door, I needed to get them to rise as fast as possible. I had just finished removing the last load of laundry from the warm dryer, so I thought why not set the pan inside to help them raise faster?

I gently placed the pan in the dryer and shut the door. Suddenly, there was a god-awful sound behind me.

I had forgotten there was still time left on the setting from the last load and found the inside of the still-revolving drum covered in a greasy, granular mess, with ribbons of sticky dough sliding down the sides. I reached in to stop it, but only managed to get my arms covered in it, too.

Kath’ren Bay, of Spokane

Under pressure

I wanted to impress my new husband and make him something hardy on a crisp fall day. Split pea soup with ham hocks seemed to fit the bill.

Knowing beans took hours to cook, I assumed the duration of cooking peas would be greatly reduced by using the pressure cooker I had received as a wedding present. No one ever told me, nor did I read, that split peas take a grand total of about 20 minutes to cook in any old regular pot.

I placed the pressure cooker on the burner, tightly screwed on the lid and cranked up the heat. It didn’t take long for the contents to begin to boil. Soon, I heard a whistling sound, and the valve cap shot off like a rocket.

Instantly, I had Mount St. Helens on my stove top. Goo was spewing everywhere. Thick green gunk was erupting so profusely that I couldn’t get close enough to pull the pot off the burner. So I did the next best thing: I ran out to the shop to get my new groom.

When he entered the kitchen, he laughed. He managed to pull the pressure cooker off of the burner and turn off the stove. We stood there watching the pot as it just kept spewing its contents.

Finally, he said, “Let’s go into town and get a hamburger.”

When we returned home, goop was dripping from the ceiling and rolling down the cabinet doors. The floor was a green lake. We had been slimed. To this day, I’m not fond of the pressure cooker. But I have learned to make split pea soup.

Jeanie Hyer, of Nine Mile Falls

Microwave mishap

In 1980, in my excitement to use our new microwave oven, I just skimmed over the instructions. I had decided to bake biscuits for dinner that night, and I put them in, set the timer and temperature as directed, and watched with great anticipation. They puffed up and seemed to be baking, but to my dismay, they weren’t browning.

So I added a minute. Still no browning. Then I added another minute and another minute and many more minutes. But they were still white as snow. I didn’t know what went wrong, but thought they must be done. So I took them out and slid them onto a plate for dinner.

My husband, bless his heart, eats whatever I fix. But he had a desperate look on his face as he banged a biscuit on the table and said, “Honey, I don’t think we can eat these. They might have to soak in something overnight to soften them up.”

I had made “hockey pucks.” We still laugh when we share the story.

Penny Smith, of Spokane Valley

Lemon meringue memo

We were spending a mid-1970s weekend at Spirit Lake with friends. The kids had helped prepare by cleaning the kitchen cabin.

At one point, I stepped away from the group to finish preparing my oft-requested lemon meringue pies – just a quick pop under the broiler to toast the meringue. Once they were ready, I grabbed ahold of the oven rack and gently slid it about 10 inches out beyond the oven. Then, I let go of the rack, which the children had unknowingly replaced backwards. The pies sailed down the upturned rack, flipping neatly onto the (newly cleaned) oven door.

Without a word, the watching guests turned, gathered the others and marched back into the kitchen, each bringing his or her fork. They scooped up bits and pieces of the pie straight from the oven door until it was gone.

Suzi Johns, of Spokane


I had come home from college and was going to prepare a casserole for my family when they returned home. All I remember now is that it called for an onion. I knew onions had stems and stringy roots and that Mom kept them in the cooler room behind the garage.

When my family got home, the casserole was ready. Someone asked what was in it, and I told them the ingredients, only Mom said she didn’t have any onions. So I showed her that, in the room behind the garage, in fact she did. In her bewildered, amused way she informed me those were tulip bulbs.

Jean Walters, of Spokane

Plastic wrap and sour milk

It was Thanksgiving 1947. We just had electricity installed a few months before and, being frugal folk, we had bought the cheapest electric stove available.

A few days before the holiday, the element in the oven went out and a new one wouldn’t be available until after Thanksgiving. Rather than cancel the dinner, my mother asked her sister-in-law to help with some of the cooking. She also asked her mother, my grandmother, to bake the turkey. Now, this was when plastic wrap had just come on the market and my grandmother was unfamiliar with it. So, she baked the turkey with the plastic still on!

It gets worse. Grandmother was Swedish, and the Swedes creamed everything. I grew up with creamed carrots, creamed peas. So it was natural that she should use milk in the dressing, which she did – the night before.

Apparently, she had left the dressing out because the milk had turned sour. There we were at Thanksgiving dinner picking melted plastic out of the turkey along with sour-milk stuffing. How could one forget?

Fred Lauritsen, of Cheney

Pecan’t pie

I moved to Alaska when I was 17 and married four months later. Earnest and unquestioning, I set to my wifely duties of cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I burned everything because 1) although I’d chopped and prepped, I’d never really handled stove knobs before and 2) Jack in the Box had recently suffered its 1993 E. coli outbreak. I had no idea how worried I should be, so I erred on the side of char.

When my older brother visited that Thanksgiving, I decided to tackle the traditional holiday dinner, and each dish was a first for me. I basted the turkey in 2 pounds of butter (which I highly recommend). I also produced sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, stuffing, green beans – the entire spread.

My husband hailed from the South, and I resolved to surprise him with a pecan pie. I’d never baked a pie, never seen nor tasted a pecan pie, nor ever eaten pecans. I was excruciatingly aware that my inexperience in pecan pie making was up against his abundant experience in pecan pie eating. I had to get this right.

While he was out, I followed the directions precisely – preheating the oven, covering the edge with foil, removing the foil after 25 minutes and, finally, cooking for 25 more “or till a knife inserted off-center comes out clean.” I carefully calculated “off-center,” but the knife, alas, did not come out “clean” – not that I had any idea what that meant.

The knife came out with oils on it. So I put it in for five more minutes. I nervously sat on an old metal chair in front of my oven, checking the pie at each timer bell. Finally, beside myself with the filthiness of the 20 knives I’d inserted, I called my brother to the kitchen.

“How long has it been in there?”

“Two and half hours.”

He knelt down to inspect. I handed him a clean knife, but he waved it away. He spoke calmly, gently. “When the crust is black, it’s probably done.”

Devastated, I watched it cool on the stove top into a shiny black gemstone. That Christmas, from my brother, I received a cookbook.

Sarajoy Van Boven, of Spokane

Pity party

Guests were coming for dinner. Dessert was to be a fresh cherry pie. It came together so quickly and looked beautiful, too – piled high with cherries. After dinner, it was proudly brought to the table, and guess what? It was so full because the nice, ripe cherries had not been pitted! The guests, with much laughter, kindly accepted their pieces of pie and we all enjoyed it, pits and all.

Lois Redmond, of Spokane