One of my elderwriters, Shirley Clark, wrote several years ago about “The Monster in My Mother’s Kitchen.” Their first pressure cooker was a Presto model (just like my mother’s), and it proved to be dangerous.
Old-timers like me will remember these cookers looked just like any ordinary pot, except for the unusual lid that twisted into place, locking the lid on tight. There was a small hole in the middle of the lid where the cook inserted a pressure-regulation valve.
Shirley’s mother had grown up using a big old pressure canner, so she felt confident about handling the little Presto. Sure enough, soon she could brown a roast in the cooker, add a few vegetables with some water and twist on the lid. Then with the cooker on the stove, Sunday dinner was ready in a short time to be enjoyed by the family.
However, it was an old stand-by, pinto beans, that first revealed the hazard. Shirley herself never liked the fact that the cooker sat there on the stove with the valve jiggling and hissing like a snake.
The advantage it offered was not having to soak the beans overnight. Mother simply picked out all the foreign objects (burrs and small rocks), washed the dry beans, and put them in the cooker with a little water. They were ready in a jiffy, whereas cooking pintos the old-fashioned way required several hours on the stove after the overnight soaking.
However, a problem arose on one particular day. Mother put the beans in the cooker, adjusted the flame under the pot, and then went outside for just a few minutes. Alas, something distracted her and she forgot about the beans.
Then Shirley heard a loud bang coming from the kitchen, accompanied by a shrill hissing noise, followed by a strange popping sound. Startled, she ran to peek into the kitchen.
There sat the monster on the stove in a shocking condition. The entire cooker was jumping up and down on the burner, with steam hissing out. The pressure valve had blown off and beans were shooting out through the hole on top. Worse yet, they were hitting the ceiling like soft bullets from a machine gun and bouncing all over the kitchen.
Her mother came racing in and managed to turn off the burner flame under the cooker, but not before getting beans in her hair. Smart daughters know not to laugh at their mothers, but Shirley could not keep a straight face. It took the two of them a long time to clean the kitchen.
About a week later, mother and daughter visited a neighbor who was in her kitchen cleaning pot roast, carrots, potatoes, and turnips off the walls. Nobody laughed.
Another woman in their neighborhood read in the cookbook that came with her cooker that one could use it to can four pint jars of vegetables or fruit at the same time. Thank goodness she was outside when the thing exploded. Pieces of glass embedded in the walls, and the lid blew through the kitchen window.
Okay, back to the 21st century: the new pressure cookers are now fail-safe, and will not explode. If you want to risk your life with those hissing monsters, don’t say you were not warned.
Jerry Lincecum is a retired English professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories. He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: firstname.lastname@example.org