For Christmas my husband's parents gave us a bread machine. The tag said "For Russel and Rebecca," probably because even though they knew I'd be pushing the buttons, he'd be enjoying the results.
I haven't had a bread machine for many years. My last one served mostly as a bread dough mixer. I never baked the bread in the machine because I did not like the tough crust, the strange shape of the loaf, and that funny paddle that always got stuck in the bottom. I would mix the dough in the bread machine, then pull it out and put it in a pan to bake in my regular oven. Then, when the bread machine died, I did not replace it.
For many years I made my homemade bread using my Bosch to do the kneading- that way I could make two loaves at once. Then my fourth child started half-day kindergarten and my bread baking ceased. Whenever it was time to punch down the dough or put it in the oven it seemed I was heading out the door to pick up children from school. Result - dead bread. So I gave up and bought a few extra loaves at the store every week to make up the difference.
This year I thought I'd have time to bake bread again, but when the weather cooled off in the fall I was in the middle of an intense writing project. If an unfortunate loaf of bread happened to be rising on the counter it had to wait until I came back from seventy years in the post-apocalyptic science-fiction future before it got baked. After a few loaves full of giant caves, or collapsed from over-rising, I gave up again.
But now I have a bread machine! Now I can throw in all the ingredients, walk away, forget about it, and still get fresh, hot bread three hours later! And the technology has certainly improved. The pan is a more normal shape for a loaf of bread, and it even beeps to tell me to take the paddle out before it bakes. "What should I bake first?" I asked. "Banana bread!" my daughter shouted. Was that an option? Sure enough, this bread machine has a "quick bread" setting. The banana bread it baked on Christmas day turned out very well. At any other time it would have been gone in ten minutes, but it came into the world in a kitchen full of pies, cakes, cookies and other goodies, so we still have some left.
The bread machine even makes jam! I tried that feature today. We were out of strawberry jam, so I gave it a try. I put in the strawberries, sugar, and pectin. Then for an hour or so the machine made periodic low, mechanical grunts. Finally a high pitched beep told me the jam was done. I poured it into a container and put it in the fridge. I'll let you know if it sets up.