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Pressure Cooking

CHERYL TEVIS 03/10/2013 @ 2:31pm

Ever have a song stuck inside your head? Recently I find myself humming Everything Old is New Again. Written by Peter Allen, the song was featured in the 2003 Broadway musical The Boy from Oz.

The lyrics most often come to mind when I'm in the kitchen.

Don't throw the past away,

You might need it some rainy day . . .

Dreams can come true again,

When everything old is new again.

It reminds me of the pressure cooker on Mom's stove top. It was an essential household appliance she used to get daily meals for our family of four kids and my dad onto the table in a hurry.

I especially recall Mom relying on the pressure cooker to prepare Sunday dinners: roast beef, potatoes, and carrots. I'd wager that the first authentic fast food was prepared in a pressure cooker.

Although Mom made sure that my sister and I knew our way around the kitchen, she never put us in charge of the pressure cooker. I remember the hissing and whistling pressure gauge as very scary. It seemed as if it would blow its gasket at any second.

Pressure cookers apparently did explode once in a while. One hilarious episode of I Love Lucy featured her unfortunate experience with a delicious chicken fricassee plastered on the ceiling.

By the time I married, microwave ovens and slow cookers were the norm in kitchen appliances. Pressure cookers languished in cupboards as outdated relics or were dedicated solely for home canning.

Although my children are grown, meal preparation remains a challenge. Microwaves are great for cooking vegetables or reheating leftovers, but they never lived up to their hype as a satisfactory alternative for cooking meat.

Slow cookers require too much planning. That's why I was excited to learn that pressure cookers are poised for a comeback. Introduced at the 1939 World's Fair, they became popular during World War II, when women entered the workforce and had to hurry home to feed their kids.

Pressure cookers work their magic by increasing the temperature at which water boils. This means the food cooks at a higher temperature, cutting cooking time by two-thirds or more. They're also great for preparing tougher and less expensive cuts of meat, cooking beans, and making soup stock.

If you're adventurous, pressure cookers also can be used to make desserts: cheesecake in about 20 minutes and delicious rice pudding.

The 1946 edition of the Joy of Cooking described it this way: "There is a gadget on the market that lets a cook scoff at time. It's called a pressure cooker."

It's healthy, too. Food is cooked in less liquid for less time, which preserves vitamins and minerals. You don't have to heat up the oven in the summer months, and stove top cleanup is a breeze, too.

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