Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Book Review: The Betty Crocker Guide to Pressure Cooking

Title: The Betty Crocker Guide to Pressure Cooking with the General Mills Pressure Quick Saucepan

Author: Betty Crocker of General Mills

Date: Amazon says 1947

Publisher: General Mills

ISBN: none

Length: 60 pages

Quote: “[A]fter the first world war some women began to do their canning with the pressure cooker. But only the venturesome took to getting more work hours out of their cookers by using them often in getting meals. But look here! The idea back of speed cooking was sound.”

Thus did the Pressure Pixie, a cartoon character, introduce Betty Crocker’s recipes. The Pressure Pixie is obviously a close relative of Reddy Kilowatt, also always a cartoon. Betty Crocker was an equally fictional character, though drawn to look like a real woman. (She had different looks over the years. I grew up with an early image of Betty Crocker from Mother’s big red cookbook and a later one on actual food packaging; the fictive author of this book has yet a third face.) This cookbook wasn’t even published as a book; it was packed with the pressure cookers specified. Well, my mother bought one of them. Apart from just one episode in which a guest peeked into the pot, redecorated the kitchen, and escaped with only minor blistering (no permanent scars), the cooker served her well. I think she may still have it. The copy of this mini-book that I own was Mother’s book; the recipes weren’t her favorites, or ours.0

A pressure cooker is a specially engineered heavy saucepan, with a heavy lid secured further by an inner sealing ring and equipped with steam release valves. It can be used to speed up cooking anything that needs to boil; some things more than others. I buy beans in tins and heat them up in an ordinary saucepan. Mother likes to tell people about the advantages of buying dry beans and cooking them in the pressure cooker.

More than one third of the book consists of basic information about steam cooking, including a table of how long it typically takes to pressure-cook different types of food until done: “Peas—1/4 cup water—15 lb cooking pressure—solid pack, 1 min.—push slide release” (to reduce the pressure), and so on.

Pages 23-54 offer recipes, beginning with the then-revolutionary idea of steam-cooking corned beef. (“Put into Pressure Quick Saucepan 1 to 1-1/2 lb. corned beef brisket, 3 to 4 in. thick, 1 cup water…Add potatoes, whole (medium-sized); rutabagas, cut into ½ to 1 in. cubes; onions, whole (medium-sized); cabbage, cut into 2-in. wedges.” Corned beef contains plenty of salt and pepper and, in the 1950s, seasonings meant salt and pepper, and maybe vinegar.)

One recipe that somehow failed to catch on was the “Hamburger Dinner,” in which hamburgers are browned (in “2 Tbsp. hot fat”) in the pressure cooker, then topped with one potato and either 2-3 small onions or 3-4 small carrots per burger and pressure-cooked until done. Somehow people seem to have opted for traditional beef stew, or grilled hamburgers in buns, nothing in between.

The Pressure Pixie has several other ideas for saving cooking time, energy, and money by pressure-cooking meat, before the bean section begins on page 37. It begins with that 1950s classic, “Lima Beans with Tomato Sauce.” I actually like lima beans with tomato sauce, the way I make it—which does not involve sugar, flour, or added fat, as this recipe does. “Baked Lima Beans,” oddly, does not call for sugar or molasses, but only lima beans, onion, carrot, parsley, salt, pepper, and saltpork; the bean recipe with the molasses and mustard suggests navy beans or “pea beans” and is titled “New England Style Beans.”

Suggestions for cooking fruits, vegetables, and grain are basic, but thorough.

Soup recipes are pretty basic, or classic, including “French Onion Soup” and “Scotch Broth” as well as the classic chicken noodle soup, split pea soup, and a stripped-down vegetable soup containing only onion, carrot, celery, and parsley—in a base of beef broth, not even tomato juice.

Really fashionable desserts of this period were either baked or frozen or, in the case of Baked Alaska, both. Nevertheless, the Pressure Pixie hangs in there with ideas for a “Spicy Pudding” with grated vegetables, a “Fruitcake Pudding” featuring a flour-based dough loaded with raisins, rice pudding, applesauce, prune (or “Lem-O-Prune”) sauce, and a doughy “Prune Pudding.”

Under the heading of “Other Good Things” come steamed bread, spaghetti cooked directly ina cheese sauce, and a rice dish that’s not “Spanish” but “Turkish” apparently because the rice, tomato, beef stock and onion are seasoned with cloves and bayleaf.

These recipes may look like a real period piece, but look again. Look closely. Because they’re simple recipes, a majority of these recipes are gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, egg-free, and/or vegan; of the ones that do feature the things a lot of people now avoid eating, nearly all feature only one. If you’re on a restricted diet, this book just might appeal to you.