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Today’s Pressure Cooker Yesterday’s Microwave?

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My new pressure cooker arrived in the mail the other day and I was nervous about using it. Remember the stories of exploding pots from your grandmother’s era. The invention of cooking under pressure is credited to Denis Papin, a physicist in 1679, who was interested in the science of steam. Papin built a pot with a closed lid and raised the temperature of boiling water by using pressure from steam. Foods in those days were large sides of beef or whole hens which took a long time roasting over a fire. Papin showed that food cooked in a pot with liquid to create steam would cook faster. His experiment was a success and allowed him entrance into the Royal Society of London, the most exclusive scientific group of its day.

In 1864 and in 1919 other pressure cookers were invented for industrial use but in 1938 Alfred Vischler invented a pressure cooker for the home. National Presto Industries was a hit when it introduced a pressure cooker at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Home canning also became popular as well as recipes developed to create flavorful stews and fruit sauces. Eventually many companies manufactured pressure cookers for home use, but with wartime food was scarce and so was the metal some companies used to make their pressure cookers. Explosions were also common as there were no safety valves used back then to moderate the pressure, hence the stories from Grandma.

It’s tempting to compare the pressure cooker in its day to a microwave due to its relative speed, but with refrigeration not available widely until the mid-20th century, canning was also a popular way to keep food on hand. By the 1970’s, when the microwave oven was available to the general public, microwave radiation cooking became popular and pressure cookers fell out of favor as a cooking method, until now.

I made up a recipe using two raw, skinned chicken breasts, carrots, onion, celery and ½ cup of water and seasonings. The instructions were very clear in the book not to fill up the pressure cooker over 2/3rds full with liquid or food. I then closed the top lining up the arrows and turned on my burner and waited for the plug to fill the hole. This tells me that pressure is building.

It took about 15 minutes to get the pot to make the appropriate noise so that I knew when to start the timer for pressured cooking. The booklet recommended 10 minutes of cooking time and then I turned off the fire. The lowering temperature stops the pressure and you can manually let the steam out right away by lifting up the throttle or over time until the plug releases and it is safe to remove the lid.

I have to say I looked in the pot and saw chicken soup. It was okay but doesn’t compare to the aroma of a pot of soup sitting all day on the stove, but that is just me. My friends own pressure canning pots and absolutely love them when it is time to put up all the lovely items coming out of the garden. I tried again cooking up apples and I must say that apple sauce was easy to make and tasted great. I am sure tomato sauce would work great, too, with my new pressure cooker. Give it a try, after all, the 1970’s are back!

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