12 May /14

Pressure cooker

The invention goes back to the French scientist, Denis Papin, who worked in the second half of the 1600s. He was educated in France, but as a Protestant was forced to leave the country due to religious persecution and found his way to England and Germany. In London he was taken up by Robert Boyle (the famous British chemist) and invented the forerunner of the pressure cooker, the so-called “steam digestor” and an early version of the steam engine. The Papin digestor was an airtight vessel which used internal steam pressure to accelerate the cooking process. It was marketed as a machine “for softening bones … for use in cookery, voyages at sea, confectionary, making of drinks”. It was a hit. He even cooked a meal for the ruling king of England Charles II. The famous diarist John Evelyn was present. With amazement he describes a meal cooked with the early pressure cooker “the hardest bones of beef itself, and mutton, were made as soft as cheese”.

It was a long time before the pressure cooker really went mainstream. At the beginning of the 1900s, the American company Northwestern Steel and Iron Works produced canner retorts – 200-litre equipment for pressure canning. These were so successful that there were calls from hotels and restaurants for smaller versions. Soon enough, a 120-litre and then a 30-litre version became available, making the machines accessible for restaurants and then homes. Soon afterwards, recipes were published. In instructions giving for canning greens and apples, the pressure cooker is mentioned in print for the first time on 3 May 1914, one hundred years ago. The Lincoln Nebraska Daily Star advises a combination of cooking first in a hot water bath, followed by cooking in water seal, then in steam pressure followed by a pressure cooker. As in many new cooking inventions, there is a slight insecurity as shown in the comment “Experience will teach adjustment of time”. Appropriately enough in 1917, Northewestern Steel and Iron Works changed its name to describe what they were doing so well. It became the “National Pressure Cooker Company”.

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