This is what I remembered about the pressure cooker: I remembered the hissing dial on top, its menacing rattle. I remember my mother warning my sisters and me not to go anywhere near it or we would make the top blow off and scald ourselves beyond recognition.
Several years ago during Nancy O’Connor’s Bean Cooking Basics class at the Merc, I expressed this fear. Other class members’ mothers had scared them of the pressure cooker, too.
O’Connor said that for cooking beans — and many other things, it turns out — the pressure cooker would become essential, our best friend.
She reassured us that the appliance has come a long way since our childhoods. Seals are stronger. Safety mechanisms let you know when it’s safe to remove the lid.
After tasting the difference from the sad canned beans I’d been eating and the meaty tasting ones she prepared that night, I conquered my fear and went right down to Weaver’s the next day to buy my own 8-quart pressure cooker.
Yes, the initial investment of between $75 and $200 can be daunting, but mine has more than paid for itself. For some of the most economical, practical and the greenest cookware around, you needn’t look any farther than the pressure cooker. Following are some reasons to add one to your kitchen.
- They conserve energy. In 15 minutes, you can cook most things including beans, root vegetables, the hardest squash imaginable, brown rice and even meat. Less cooking time truly does add up to lower electric bills. Also, in the heat of the summer, you can have a meal ready in less than 30 minutes, and you’ll keep the heat of the cooking process inside the pot so you don’t put a strain on the air conditioner — simply put the cooker outside to release steam. Even with a small, 8-quart cooker like mine, you can easily can small batches of the summer’s windfall of fruit and vegetables without heating up the house.
- Pressure cookers save money. As you probably already know, bulk dried items like beans are far cheaper than the canned variety. Without a pressure cooker, dried beans take almost forever to cook. The pressure cooker can also make tender, delicious work of tougher but less expensive cuts of meat like brisket and stew meat.
- They decrease packaging. Buying food in bulk eliminates the waste of raw materials used for cans and other packaging.
- You can’t beat the taste. You’ll be eating food with far more flavor than processed foods that lose taste, texture and body during the long journey from harvest to packaging. Unless you know someone with a pressure cooker who will invite you over for a taste test, you’ll just have to trust me on this.
At the bean class, O’Connor told us two pieces of cookware she wouldn’t want to live without: a cast-iron skillet and a pressure cooker. Mother knew best, after all.