All You Have to Fear…is Making a Big Mess (and, maybe, treating war wounds later)

Comments (0) Food and Drink

by Tamara Kaye Sellman

pressure_cookerLast month I wrote about my purchase of a pressure cooker and my desire to make refried beans.

Of course, it hasn’t happened yet. Now I know why.

There are certain devices in my culinary arsenal that I generally don’t use, though my husband uses them. They include things that promise large blasts of heat or smoke or power-tool like effects: the gas grill, the Li’l Chief smoker, the salamander (that little blow torch you use for crème brulee), the pressure canner, and now, the pressure cooker.

I’ve always yielded to his whims with the grill because, frankly, he likes to cook, too, and the grill is one of those things that men gravitate to. The grill is Man territory, where I come from. I know I could use the grill if I wanted to, but I don’t because, really, I’ve deeded that territory to him. When we have our annual neighborhood ribs and pie fest over Labor Day weekend, you can guess that he’ll be making the ribs, and I’ll be baking the pie.

The smoker is something I’ve never used, again, because it seems like it really belongs in his hands. My husband has used it, primarily, to smoke trout and salmon. Let’s face it, he catches the fish, he has a right to cook it up the way he wants, no? (And it’s good stuff, let me tell you.)

The salamander is on my Most Wanted (To Put To Good Use) list for 2010. Neither of us have used it. I balk at it because I’ve still got to figure out how to add the butane. I’m sure it’s a matter of clicking one little cartridge into place and I’m off to the races, but this is unknown territory for me, so the little torch remains prone in the storage closet until I get me up some gumption.

This summer, I’ll have to find that gumption anyway because I want to join the Canvolution. You know what I mean, right? The renaissance of home canning that’s swept the nation? I just went through the last of my freezer fruit sauces and jams and began to wonder about the amount of energy it takes to keep them on ice, when really, all I need to do is can up my blueberry preserves, my raspberry sauce, my strawberry jam, maybe some peaches and cherries, and stick them on a basement shelf, no watts required.

But if I’m going to join the Canvolution, I’m going to need to get over working with the pressure canner. There’s something about the gauges, the whistling steam, the high heat, that make me worry that something in my kitchen’s gonna blow every time the device comes out of storage. But recently I realized that the pressure canner I have, with its PSI gauge on top, is really less to be afraid of than the smaller pressure cooker I recently bought. After all, there’s no guesswork with the big boy: just keep the needle on the designated number and everything works out fine.

Ideally. I’m still concerned I’ll let off the pressure incorrectly and leave my family planted with bits of shrapnel and stewed tomatoes before the doing’s done. I’m not alone in that fear, unfounded or not. Whenever I bring up pressure cookers with friends of mine who like they cook, the vast majority of them express intense feelings of ambivalence about them. On the one hand, they know they save a lot of time in the kitchen and work very well for cheap cuts of meat, beans and grains, soups and stews… but what about that little issue with unsupervised chemistry?

And my new pressure cooker… it doesn’t have a gauge! What? That freaks me out! You have to watch the little rocker top respond to the heat and time accordingly. With all the precision instruments I have in my kitchen, this one seems horribly out of place. You can’t take the lid off the thing to see how you’re food’s doing, you have only this shiny black cap doing the hula on the lid to confirm things are in working order…

Though I must add that the new pressure cooker does work. Well, in fact. Not that I would know first hand. I know only because my husband’s put it to good use several times already. It doesn’t seem to worry him that catastrophe could be just a few degrees away.

So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to face my fear. I’m going to sort a bag of beans tonight, and soak them, and tomorrow night, I’m going to cook them up on my own. The way I see it, once I master Little Boy, I’ll be able to take on Fat Man later this spring when the farmer’s market opens.

Wish me luck, and if you don’t hear from me next month, it’ll probably be because I’m laid up in the hospital recovering from shrapnel wounds and steam burns.

All in the name of food science, right?

Bio: Tamara Kaye Sellman is a creative writing coach and developmental editor living in Bainbridge Island, WA. She writes the blog, BuzzFood: Feed The Obsession (

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