A Brief History of The Pressure Cooker
The first digester [pressure cooker] was created in 1679 by French physicist and mathematician, Denis Papin. It was a large cast iron vessel with a tightly fitted lid that locked. His invention raised the boiling point of water which softened bones and cooked meat in record time. But the thing also exploded all the time due to uncontrollable furnace temperatures and lack of technology to build cast and molded pots. Thankfully, Papin’s later designs implemented a steam release valve to keep the machine from exploding after the Royal Society’s eyebrows were blown off during a presentation. Three years later he represented it to the Royal Society and finally gained positive reviews.
It should be noted that during this time, while developing his digesting machine, Papin also conceived the idea of a piston and cylinder engine. He didn’t follow through with it, yet in 1697, based on Papin’s designs, engineer Thomas Savery built the first commercial steam engine. How could Papin not follow through with that piece of engineering? He must have been a true-blue meat and potatoes man!
The pressure cooker title was first printed in 1915. The first pressure cookers were sold in 1927, Germany. The world’s first commercial pressure cooker made by National Presto Industries was exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. There are accounts of some people who thought witchcraft was involved because of the constant hissing and rapid cooking.
Postwar consumers sought a higher level of convenience than what the pressure cooker afforded, opting for processed fast food and TV dinners. In the late 60s and early 70s came an increased awareness of healthy eating that pressure cookers easily provided. In my house growing up my parents called it Le Presto and it was used on a weekly basis to cook beef stews and garlic infused pork roasts. Still my favorites in my own kitchen today.
To sum up the brief history of the pressure cooker; I need only say one word: CANNING. What an industry!
Nowadays, modern pressure cookers, with their multiple safety features and improved vent systems make this old-fashioned cooking method new again.