December 05, 2007

Pressure Cooking with Presto

The National Pressure Cooker Company of Eau Claire, Wisconsin had been manufacturing industrial-size commerical and later, home-size, pressure canners for thirty-four years before it introduced the smaller sauce-pan style model which was marketed under the brand name "Presto".

The National Presto Cooker (Model 60) Recipe Book (1946, 112 pages) is an example of the type of recipe and instructional book that came with these smaller size pressure cookers in their earlier years.

In 1946, the saucepan-style Presto pressure cookers were available in two models: the Model 40, which was cast from a magnesium-alluminum alloy and the Model 60, which was pressed from extra heavy rolled aluminum. Both models were the 4-quart size and were identical except for the materials they were made of.

The Model 60 could be used to cook a wide variety of food: cereals, soups, vegetables (fresh, dried and frozen), meats, fish and seafood, poultry and wild game, combination dishes, breads and desserts, fruits, sauces and baby foods. They could also be used for the steam processing deemed necessary by the FDA for the home canning of meats, most vegetables and other non-acid foods. For large quantity canning it was suggested that the larger Presto pressure canner be used.

The earlier booklets had colorful covers and both black and white and color illustrations inside. They went into great detail about how to use the cooker, providing many different illustrations and explanations on the different parts, and extensive time tables for the different types of food. This book has plenty of recipes as well as the information needed for caring for the parts of the cooker and an illustrated parts list for replacement pieces. Back then, a replacement sealing ring cost 25 cents and an over pressure plug cost ten cents.

The benefits of using the Presto cooker, referred to as a "modern cooking marvel," is discussed in the front of the book, a portion of which is shown below.

"A PRESTO COOKER saves time, saves food flavors and color, saves vitamins and minerals and saves cooking fuel--while preparing the tastiest of foods."
These benefits suited the needs of the home cooks of the Depression and World War II years. Presto was one of the factories who switched to war work, temporarily ceasing production of their aluminum pressure cookers, as did many other factories, during World War II.

Fast forward fifty-eight years and see how dramatically the recipe and instruction book has changed. Presto 4- and 6-Quart Pressure Cookers Instructions and Recipes (2004, 64 pages) is a plain little black and white booklet. Although the instructions and few line drawing diagrams pertaining to the operation of the cooker seem adequate, I don't think they are as nice or as thorough as the earlier presentations. There are recipes for cooking soups and stocks, seafood, poultry, meats, vegetables, dry beans and peas, grains, and desserts.

Unlike the earlier version, the newer booklet has no illustrations of the food. The booklet does contain time tables, but they are not the colorful variety of previous years. The benefits of the cooker mentioned in this booklet have changed a bit to reflect our current lifestyles:

"The pressure cooker is perfect for the way we live and eat today. It's ideal for preparing many of the lighter foods that help keep us healthy and fit. It preserves flavors and nutrients, tenderizes leaner cuts of meat and, best of all, it cooks foods three to ten times faster than ordinary cooking methods. And, it's even possible to cook several foods in the pressure cooker at the same time without flavors intermingling."
You can see how Presto shifted the emphasis of the benefits of cooking with the pressure cooker around a bit. And, overall, there's not much selling of the product going on in these pages now.

Another type of Presto publication was The Official Presto Pressure Cooker Cookbook (1996, 205 pages). This was a hardcover book over twice the size of the others with 8-1/2 x 10-1/2 inch glossy pages and was quite different from the traditional booklets included with the purchase of the cookers.

This book contains a brief overview of the Presto cooker history and talks about how, after years of preparing convenience foods and experimentation with gourmet type foods, people were ready to return to the foods they remembered from the past.

"In this return to culinary roots, millions of pressure cookers were put back on the range. They were ideal for creating the kinds of food everyone suddenly craved: real, hearty, home-cooked meals made fast and without a lot of fuss.

Busy cooks discovered that no other cooking method or fancy kitchen gadget (including the microwave oven) was more efficient at saving, time, money, and energy. And no other method could create old-fashioned favorites with more authenticity or with more satisfying results.

Now, in the nineties, nutrition has become the latest national obsession..."
This cookbook contains very little in the way of basic instruction on how to actually use the cooker. It does contain full page color photos of some of the prepared dishes. There are a few recipes one might remember from the past, but the majority of the recipes, with names like Peasant Garlic Soup, Hot-Sour Pork with Tofu, Indian Lamb Curry, Chilorio, California Chicken with Artichokes, Linguini with Calamari Sauce and Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding, are quite different from those basic ones found in the instructional booklets.

Did you know that you could cook a cheesecake in the pressure cooker? Well, you can. There are three different varieties to choose from.


2 tablespoons margarine, softened
1/2 cup vanilla wafer crumbs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate pieces
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons finely chopped glace fruit and peel
2 cups water
1/2 cup sour cream or sour half-and-half
Ground cinnamon

Line 1-quart souffle dish with aluminum foil; coat with margarine. Mix wafer crumbs and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and press on bottom and halfway up side of dish. Beat cream cheese until fluffy in small bowl. Beat in ricotta cheese and sugars. Beat in eggs. Mix in flour, vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir in chocolate pieces, pecans and glace fruit. Pour into souffle dish. Cover dish securely with aluminum foil. Place cooking rack and 2 cups water in 4-or 6-quart pressure cooker. Place souffle dish on rack. Close cover securely. Place pressure regulator on vent pipe. COOK 40 MINUTES, at 15 pounds pressure, with pressure regulator rocking slowly. Let pressure drop of its own accord. Remove cheesecake and let cool in dish on wire rack. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. Remove cheesecake from dish by lifting foil. Carefully remove foil. Spread sour cream on top of cheesecake. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.

It's interesting to look at the differences in all these publications. I much prefer the earlier versions and although I fully appreciate all the safety features of the newer model pressure cookers, I find the no-frills black and white booklet visually uninspiring. If you're experienced with pressure cookers and are looking for more-than-basic dishes to prepare, you might like the variety of recipes found in the 1996 version.


At 4:59 PM CST, Blogger T.W. Barritt said...

I have an old pressure cooker that might have belonged to my mom - its a bit of a lost art, but I know they used it to prepare many different types of food.

At 11:19 AM CST, Blogger Kathy said...

T.W. - There's even a recipe for Steamed Christmas Pudding in the hardcover book. I noticed that it's made with margarine rather than butter or suet and it calls for a souffle dish rather than a mold. Those manufacturers think of everything.

At 11:07 PM CDT, Anonymous ANNETT DINWIDDIE said...

On the Model 40 presto the regulator comes up and shows rings
and it does not jiggle..Could someone tell me which ring it needs to be on to cook safely..I
remember it as a child but have
forgotten the setting..Thanks


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