It's Christmas time—and I'm thinking of sweet corn. When it arrives at the farmers' market in mid-July, my family knows to expect fresh corn chowder. Last summer, we rented an apartment in Montréal, Quebec, and when chowder season dawned, to my delight, I unexpectedly found an immersion blender in one of the kitchen drawers.

I was enamored with the little appliance. Where had it been all my culinary life? I must have gushed on—and on—about the immersion blender, for we weren't back in Toronto one week when my husband and 9-year-old son came home wearing proud smiles and carrying a medium-sized box.

So it was that I added an immersion blender to my growing inventory of kitchen tools. This is the kind of consumer instinct on which kitchen retailers like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma are counting this Christmas. They trust we'll stock our kitchens with gifted gadgets—and fail to remember that we're actually cooking far less than we ever have.

In her recent Atlantic essay "The Joy of Not Cooking," Megan McArdle compares the amount of time our grandmothers and mothers spent in the kitchen to the time we spend in them now. In the 1920s, women traditionally spent 30 hours a week in the kitchen; in the 1950s, 20 hours. Today, our culinary commitment tops out at 5.5 hours a week.

Ironically, when we cooked most, our kitchens were least accommodating. Writes Steven Gdula in his book The Warmest Room in the House, at the turn of the century, "kitchens were as close an approximation to hell on earth as one could find." By contrast, today's gourmet kitchen, outfitted with a Sub-Zero refrigerator, Viking Range, and a host of sexy countertop appliances, is meant to offer us a picture of "romance," says Jack ...

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