Palabras Pintorescas: The art of cooking with a pressure cooker

-A A +A
By Editha Bartley

Well, I always thought every household owned a pressure cooker, and if you live above 8,000 feet, as I do, you automatically cook beans and so much more in a pressure cooker.

Two different friends and neighbors have asked me about their new found art that they are so afraid of — that dangerous pressure cooker they have never used. Yes, it is still in its box, sadly.

I was given a pressure cooker as a wedding present so long ago, and my mother-in-law became my very good teacher when I (who couldn’t boil water when I got married) suddenly realized Jim expected a hot, home cooked meal when he came home from work. And because we always butchered our own beef, there were plenty of less tender, but very good cuts of meat that needed the pressure cooker treatment.

I’ve been to more than one dinner event that was memorable in a different way. The pinto beans that cooked so long in that slow cooker were crunchy, not soft as butter like they should be.

My High Altitude cookbook defines the pressure cooker this way: “The pressure cooker is known for quick cooking and vitamin-and-energy-saving features, but at high altitude it provides the additional benefit of accomplishing the otherwise impossible.”

Basically, water cannot boil at 212 degrees in high altitude, and this temperature is necessary to crack the shell of most of our beans and split peas. The pressure cooker overcomes this problem in a very short period of time. I can have dry beans completely cooked and seasoned, ready to serve here in just 45 minutes.

I’m always asked about the dangers of cooking this way, and in the last 50 plus years I’ve only had one “blow up,” and that was a very long time ago before the safety standards of today were put into place. I have one rule when cooking this way. I never leave the kitchen while the pressure is up and the heat is on under the cooker. But I have the same rule with most things I cook.

I’ve scorched a lot of foods by just not paying attention as they cook, and I do not enjoy scraping burned food off a favorite pot.
Basically this is a very long introduction into another topic that is timely. I am impressed, actually surprised, at the number of people who are served at our various soup kitchens. The food that is donated, the volunteers that prepare and serve it, and the big community support from many organizations make this incredible job possible.

Sometimes this is the only hot meal a person or family gets in a number of days. And at the moment both the Samaritan House and the Salvation Army are collecting non perishable foods for upcoming holiday food boxes. If every person in this area would just donate one can of food, those boxes would be filled to overflowing.

No, I can’t cook that big pot of beans these kitchens need every week, but I am always glad to provide the beans and more when the collection boxes are out. And I must salute our many restaurants who provide nourishing soups for these community kitchens.

That’s what Thanksgiving is all about. Thank you all, lots, for remembering those less fortunate, year round.

Editha Bartley lives in Gascon in Mora County. She may be reached at 454-0563.