Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Under Pressure

I have some vivid kitchen memories from my childhood: one is Grandma Brown's pressure cooker whistling away on the stove, with the "jigger valve" a rockin'. All urban legends aside, no dinner ever exploded all over the kitchen; I guess she was just too savvy for that. Another one is watching her can fruit with her big steam canner, with the nice big rack full of jars. Since she always looked hot and sweaty while canning, I had no desire to ever get involved even up until last summer. Of course, the fact that she was close to 50 at that time and didn't take hormones may have contributed to her too-rosy cheeks.

A good ten years ago I took a pressure cooking class and ended up buying a new, non-exploding cooker by Kuhn Rikon. I had a great time cooking one pot meals for quite a while. But the love affair cooled off and now my cooker is relegated to making mashed potatoes, steaming artichokes, and Paul loves to cook midwestern style green beans with it. Hint - for mashed potatoes - if using large potatoes cut into thirds. throw in the pot with some water and cook for 15 minutes after bringing up to pressure. Quick release the steam, pass the potatoes through a ricer, and mix with milk and butter or whatever you prefer. It's very easy.

Last summer Paul and I canned peaches with my friend Rita, an old pro at canning. It was pretty fun and we ended up with several quarts. I made up the simple syrup, in this case 2 parts water to 1 part organic sugar. Or simply, 1 cup water to 1/2 cup sugar to make a light syrup. Just bring it to a strong simmer to dissolve the sugar. It's delicious and brings out the natural flavor of the peaches.

This got us thinking about canning tomatoes. There are some pretty good reasons to do this. It seems that the lycopene (antioxidant) in cooked tomatoes is more absorbable than in raw tomatoes. When canning you can use the best possible ripe tomatoes; Paul planted 4 different types (1 plant each) and we're hoping we get a nice crop this year. You don't have to add salt; have you looked at the sodium content of most commercially canned tomatoes? Also, Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in the epoxy liner of most commercial food cans. It can mimic estrogen with all the attendant problems that entails. Try googling zeno-estrogens; you'll get an eyeful!

Now we're looking at getting a pressure canner, which really pours the heat on, much more than a steam canner. You really have to put the heat screws to vegetables as well as add citric acid - because you don't want to breed BOTULISM. (And yet there are those who inject it in their faces.) In case you don't know, botulism thrives in anaerobic (no air), low acid environments. A small amount, if ingested, will cause paralysis, let's say in the lungs for starters, and most probably will end with death. Grandma Brown used to scare the crap out of me about botulism and I was sure I didn't want any of that!

Paul is determined to find a used pressure canner so last weekend when we went for a ride in the foothills and stopped at yard sales and thrift and new-to-you stores to try our luck. Fortune wasn't with this that time, but it's still early. Frankly, I'm a little leery of buying used equipment but I'll try to keep an open mind. And, hey, we don't have tomatoes yet, so there's a little time. Wish me luck!

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