Circa 1975  Sense and Nonsense

I have discovered a new way of cooking – pressure cookery!

I realise pressure cookers have been around for years but I have had very little to do with them. In fact I used to admire the courage of the people who admitted to using them regularly.

I recall years ago babysitting someone’s pressure cooker on my stove. It was a nerve-racking experience. This pressure cooker had a gauge on it and I was told never to let the little needle go above 15 pounds. Apparently there had been some very messy and dangerous occasions when this had happened in the past.

I stared at that needle until my eyes crossed. Whenever the needle would creep past the danger mark, I would lower the flame with a shaky hand. This would usually result in too little pressure and I would have to turn the burner up again. I suppose if I had not been so nervous it would have been easier to find the exact amount of heat to maintain a constant pressure.

As it was, I found myself over-compensating each time I adjusted the burner. I was ecstatic with joy when the owner of this ugly pot arrived to claim her property. What magic there was in removing the lid from that steaming, hissing thing, I never knew. I was safely outside, having a conversation with a squirrel. The squirrel and I had an affinity in that we both moved with quick spasmodic movements. Also, we both chirped a lot when we talked.

However time heals all wounds, even mental ones. A month ago I bravely borrowed our neighbor’s pressure cooker to can some fish. The pressure cooker would reduce the cooking time from 4 hours to 90 minutes. My daughter was experienced in pressure cookery, having used one in a cooking class in school. This pressure cooker was a newer and much safer model than the one I had the experience with twenty years ago. It had no gauge, just a removable knob on top. The knob was supposed to rock gently, allowing the excess steam to escape through the valve beneath it.

I put the pot of fish on the stove as my daughter outlined the steps involved in proper pressure cookery. Everything went on schedule. The steam pushed the little indicator on the side of the lid up and I turned the heat down. The knob on the top rocked gently. Only 90 minutes to go.

As I turned to leave the room, my daughter nonchalantly said, “Oh, I forgot to mention Step one: you are never supposed to leave the room.” This statement raised an element of doubt in my mind. “If these newer pressure cookers are so safe why am I not supposed to leave the room?”

Ninety nervous minutes later, I turned the burner off. “What do I do now?” I hollered. “You cool it down quickly,” my helpful daughter answered. “Pour cold water all over the pot until the little indicator that popped up earlier pops back down.” This I did. “Is it safe to open up now?” I asked, “And why are you standing way over there across the room?”

“Well, in cooking class we all drew straws to see who would open the lid. I was lucky. I always got a long straw,” my courageous offspring explained. “Maybe you should wait another five minutes,” she added.

Ten minutes later I opened the pot and exposed my beautifully preserved jars of fish. Such an invention! Such a time-saver!  I must own one of these.

I do not as yet own a pressure cooker but our neighbour who is vacationing, kindly consented to let me use his while he is away. I use it almost every day and find it is a real time-saver. My stews and pot roasts seem tenderer and tastier cooked in it as well. The pressure cooker no longer intimidates me and I can operate it with my eyes closed – well almost!

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