No more pressure cooker explosions

When Barry and I first encountered a pressure cooker, it was in the kitchen of our very capable friend, Barbara deLackner. It was the old aluminum “jiggle-top” kind, but Barbie used it often without problems. She taught us how to use it safely while were were living with her on Hill Farm, outside Portland, Oregon.

But accidents can still happen, and pressure cookers are notorious for them.

A few years after Barbie passed away, her pressure cooker was still in use. A friend of the family, Ras, had moved into her house and was taking care of it for her children. He kept it much as Barbie had, all the way down to her books, dishes, linens — and that pressure cooker.

One evening, Ras pulled out rabbit out of the freezer, placed it in the pressure cooker, then discovered the lid wouldn’t quite go on. So he left the pot on the burner, simmering, with the lid ajar, and went outside to do some farm chores.

While he was away, the rabbit thawed and the lid dropped down — just enough to almost lock in place. It began to build up pressure. When he came back, thinking the pan was just simmering, he touched the handle, and the lid exploded off the cooker. Ras was severely burned all over his torso and arms, and lucky that it missed his face.

Around that time, Barry and I had moved to Seattle, where I read about the new “second generation” pressure cookers. After years of exploding pots, designers came up with models that employ failsafes to keep them from exploding. The pressure valve is one steam vent. There’s a second vent in the handle by the latch. And if both of those were to get plugged, there’s a slot in the lid, where the gasket would blow out before the pot would explode.

I bought my own pressure cooker in 1995, because Barbie had taught me not to fear them and because I could get one of the new models, a Spanish Magefesa. A company called North American Promotions imports them. The cooker got so much use, we bought a second one to keep on our boat. It cooks real food — whole grains, dried beans, cheap cuts of meat — fast, and I love the fact that it is efficient and saves energy.

Our friend Cindy knows that we’re big fans of the pressure cooker. We’d invited her to come by for dinner this week, and when Barry called to finalize plans, she had an interesting proposition for us. “I just picked up a pressure cooker at the thrift store. Can you show me how to use it?”

That evening, we’d planned to cook Sesame Brown and Wild Rice. So we told Cindy to bring her pressure cooker — and we’d show her how to cook the rice. It was a lot of fun, sharing stories and making dinner together. Cindy also brought the ingredients for an Indian Dhal Dip that she wanted to try, so we made that as well. Or rather, Barry and I supervised and let her practice with her new cooker.

Cindy went home with new confidence about her pressure cooker, recipes, and leftovers. Barry and I got a kick out of sharing our pressure cooker knowledge, and we got recipes and leftovers, too. It was a great exchange, a skill we learned from a friend and then passed along to another friend — like sailing.