Insights by Goldie
Everything old is new again! Pressure cookers are in

Sound Consumer | April 2009

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

In 1973, the book, “Diet for a Small Planet,” by Frances Moore Lappé, so impressed me I decided to change everything about the foods I fed my growing family and assorted others in our extended household.

Reading Lappé, I became determined to learn how to prepare mostly vegetarian meals — as a way to use fewer resources and for the added health and nutrition as well.

Someone recommended a place called Puget Consumer’s Co-op, where I remember being overwhelmed by unfamiliar foods, many of them basics in the recipe section of Lappé’s book. The recipes required combining particular ratios of grains with beans, nuts or seeds, plus dairy or eggs, to achieve maximum or “complete protein” by balancing the amino acids that vary in such different foods.

Most recipes I tried were time consuming, requiring hours of soaking and long cooking periods for grains such as whole wheat or rye berries, and especially for the amazing varieties of beans and lentils.

I knew this would work for me only if I could cut the preparation times. I tried a slow-cooking Crock-pot and for some things it was okay, but I never was comfortable leaving slow-cookers (or any appliance) turned on for several hours while away — even though they’re intended exactly for that purpose. Maybe I’m just more spontaneous (or less organized!), but I don’t always think about dinner preparations early in the morning.

Ellen Buchman Ewald, contributor of many recipes in Lappé’s book, also had published “Recipes for a Small Planet.” This book clicked instantly for me and soon became my best friend the minute I read that life would be much easier once I started using a pressure cooker. It meant shedding fears handed to me by my mom, who was traumatized once by seeing her “soup on the ceiling” some 50 years earlier.

I bought my first stainless steel Presto, a “jiggle-top” style pressure cooker and sat down to read the manufacturer’s directions and warnings: “Pressure cooking most beans is NOT recommended since beans may foam and clog the vent.” What?

Ridiculous! Ignoring this, I entrusted myself to Ewald’s sensible step-by-step directions for preparing beans: “To prevent any potential foaming or clogging of the steam vent, simply add a tablespoon of oil to the pot. It’s that simple.” I soon realized even that was unnecessary for all but items such as split peas or lentils.

Soon I added a second pressure cooker. Family supper frequently meant two “sssing” pots, one with a grain, the other with a bean or vegetable stew, chicken or pot-roasts. Seldom found on new, modern pressure cookers (like my wonderful Fagor today), those old jiggle–top pressure gauges worked great for me for 20 years.

Ewald also taught me to use a stainless steel bowl, one with enough finger room to be able to lower it, filled with ingredients, into the pot, so it floats atop a cup or two of water as it comes to pressure. This clever method allows cooking of delicate foods such as puddings or sauces in the inner bowl without scorching.

I learned to improvise using collapsible steamers inside to cook firm and dense vegetables quickly, such as beets, winter squash or whole artichokes.

During the next decade, I introduced pressure cooking in numerous classes, extolling the time-saving benefits and delicious, easy meals. Yet, strangely, I seldom considered emphasizing the fuel saved!

When I studied in Mexico, I realized all homes had pressure cookers for convenience, yes, but mostly to save fuel — especially important in high altitudes, such as in mile-high Mexico City. Gas and electricity were expensive and service interruptions were frequent.

Much of the world’s people, in both developing and developed nations, for decades have been mindful of fuel consumption. They use “on demand” water heaters instead of wasteful huge tanks that always are hot, hang clothing to dry, and conserve water use.

Here in the United States, we’re just now learning that such efforts are necessary to protect the future of the planet. Yet, as anyone knows who has come home to a fragrant stew, simple changes don’t always require sacrifice. In fact, they can be deliciously rewarding.

More about: cookware, soup, stew, vegetarian

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