Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Your Pal during the Recession: The Pressure Cooker and other reflections.

The economic crisis brought countless different lifestyle changes when our own economy collapsed. It changes every aspect of how you get by, socially, culturally, economically and on daily life in general. The way we process food is a good example and this topic is something that I believe most of you will find interesting. 

Pressure Cookers

Presto 01362 6-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker 
Presto 01362 6-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker $39.90
Pressure cookers are well known within the preparedness and self-reliance community. Because of the sealed, high pressure and temperature conditions, it’s a favorite way of both cooking and sterilizing both food and containers. But for some reason this wasn’t my immediate reason of interest for this particular product. 

When going into finer detail of what changes after an economic collapse or a severe economic crisis, food, its price and the way you process it is one part of the spectrum of how life changes that can be discussed in length, and here I’ll take a few minutes to explain more in depth why I believe this type of cooking process to be important.

Argentina is (or at least used to be) the land of beef, those that know a bit about this country know that much, those that travel here usually compliment the food, especially the meat.
What most foreigners don’t know is that this has changed considerably since the economic collapse. First of all the price of meat has gone up considerably. The producer is much more inclined to sell to the European market that pays in Euros than the local one that pays in pesos and seems to have even less of those as time goes by and poverty spreads in the country, in spite of what official statistics may say. The simple truth is that as time goes by, Argentineans can afford to eat less and less meat. That might not seem like much of a deal except for the fact that cow meat is our main source of protein. 

While other countries diversify their meat production more, including chicken, pork and fish, in the land of beef, beef is by far the most common meat. Fish is terribly expensive. Pork and chicken are less common, still expensive and sometimes of dubious quality. I’ve given up on buying chicken in the large chain stores when I was sold frozen (and rotten ) chicken for the 3rd time.

Tip here: When buying chicken or other meats, a good way of knowing if its fresh or not is by looking at the inside of the bone where the marrow is. This is common in chickens where the feet are cut off and the marrow is exposed, some beef with bone also have the marrow visible. The marrow should be bright red. If its looking less bright and more brown then it means that meat is old, even going bad. 

The second reason why we’re finding less beef and what we find is increasingly expensive and of less quality is that there’s less of it. With current soy prices local producers have switched to producing the more profitable grain. So on one side we have less meat being produced, and of that being made the good, youngers calves are sold abroad. All we have left is the one of less quality and that’s where the pressure cooker comes in.

The Advantages of the Pressure cooker.

Presto 1781 23-Quart Aluminum Pressure Cooker/Canner 

Since the beef available is usually or older, bigger cows and the price is still expensive, the quality of the meat you can afford these days isn’t what it used to be. Its not as tender or as tasty.
In the good old days you didn’t even eat beef, stores mostly sold veal instead, and a few minutes in the oven or on the cast iron grill was enough to enjoy tasty meat.

The pressure cooker allows you to tenderize some of this harder beef and that’s just one of the advantages it has for the post-economic crisis family:

*Makes cheaper and harder meats more tender. This makes dinner time more enjoyable and the morale boost alone of not being reminded of what has happened every time you chew is priceless. 

*Pressure cookers require less fuel to heat because its all sealed, heat and vapor isn’t lost as in a ordinary pot. This is important both for saving money in gas and electricity and in case the power goes down so as to save and use less of the emergency fuel you have stored.

*Pressure cookers cook faster. The time saved allows you to do other things and its not a minor advantage in a family where probably both parents will have to leave the house to bring an income in order for the family to survive. 

*Pressure cookers use less water. Water is essential for survival, even more precious when there’s no tap water and you have to use your stored water or work hard brining buckets of it from the outside. This is one of the greatest advantages I see after a disaster situation.

*Pressure cookers allow you to use little water which means you can cook with the steam alone, and not simply boil and then throw the water where most of the nutrients of the food you just cooked go to waste. Cooking mostly with the steam means the food retains the minerals, vitamins and nutrients, taking more advantage of the food you have. This is another big advantage when food is either scarce or expensive.

*Pressure cookers work at much higher temperatures, effectively killing most of the undesirable bugs often found in food. Especially in 3rd world countries or first world ones that are going through 3rd world situations, this is another advantage. As the economy gets worse, so do sanitary conditions in general. Food poisoning is no joke, I’ve gone through it a couple times when buying food to take from places that looked very clean. Diarrea, ecoli, some of these critters can kill you, so this is another significant advantage of this cooking method.

*The right pressure cooker can be used for canning as well. Making your own food preserves is an art of its own, and one you can put to good use as food prices keep going up in the future.

Disadvantages? Pressure cookers aren’t cheap. They work at high pressure which used to be dangerous. Today most good ones have safety valves and mechanisms that won’t open unless the pressure drops.  In this case you don’t want to go with the cheapo brands that may fail. Pressure cookers aren’t exactly light so its not something for camping or bugging out in a hurry, but more for bugging in.
Take care everyone,
Join the forum discussion on this post



Matt said...

Pressure cookers used to be a staple in the American kitchen through the 70's at least. They were used as you have described to cook tough meats faster. Mom used to make beef stew in them because it would tenderize the meat and cook the potatoe and carrots much faster.

The slow cooker and acces to tender or tenderized meat mostly did the pressure cooker in. Slow cookers can be ignored (mostly) and left unattended.

Another advantage for the pressure cooker is boiling water for sterilization. The sealed high temp high pressure atmosphere will sterilize water much faster than any other heat based method.

Anonymous said...

There's another thing that recommends pressure cookers to those of us who are into preparedness. Most long term food storage plans include copious quantities of dried beans.

The thing with beans, though, is they ordinarily require soaking overnight and then rinsing before they can be cooked. With a pressure cooker, you can skip the presoaking step and just cook them under pressure. My understanding is they also cook faster this way than in just a pot, but I've never tried it.

DaShui said...

Another way to tenderize beef and deer, but not pork, is to wrap it in a towel and place it in a 40 degree refrigerator for up to ten days. If it gets a mold then just scrape it off. Ya'll have heard of dry aging?

Anonymous said...

I still have the pressure cooker my mother made beef stew in over 50 years ago;Presto, I think, in the basement, not used for a few years. Built like a Russian tank. If you get a new rubber sealer ring and, possibly, a new pressure gauge that you clunk on (on this model), it will probably last forever. Come to think of it, I'm going to bring it up and make beef stew!


shambhala said...

Yup. We have 2 pressure cookers: one electrical, and a larger more basic one.

Both have worked great.

Chris said...

Exactly the reason why we got us a pressure canner. We can pressure cook in it and can fill up our food reserves much cheaper. Our initial investment to buy mason jars and the cooker has been well paid off by not having to buy expensive no. 10 cans of long storage food.

Anonymous said...

Old beans too hard to soak and cook otherwise can be cooked in a pressure cooker. If only for the cooking of beans, a pressure cooker is a must have. Thrift stores and garage sales occasionally have these cheap, but I'd pay full price if I could not find one cheap. a

Anonymous said...

+1 on the pressure cooker. If for no other reason than saving on utilities and heating up the kitchen.

But it's amazing how many folks are afraid of using them...