Move Over, Microwave: A Pressure Cooker Comeback? Pressure cookers were once a common household appliance, but they fell out of favor in the U.S. as people turned to frozen dinners and microwaves. Now, at a time when Americans are spending less time in the kitchen than ever before, the humble appliance may be poised for a comeback.
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Move Over, Microwave: A Pressure Cooker Comeback?

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Move Over, Microwave: A Pressure Cooker Comeback?

Move Over, Microwave: A Pressure Cooker Comeback?

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JACKI LYDEN, Host:

Statistics from the Bureau of Labor reveal that Americans are spending fewer hours in the kitchen than at any other time in history. Lara Pellegrinelli reports there's a device that will let you spend even less time in the kitchen and still make home-cooked meals.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Does a day at work leave you feeling fried, steamed or simply burned? Maybe your job is a pressure cooker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PRESSURE COOKER")

MIKE DUNN: (Singing) Pressure cooker, the pressure cooker, the pressure cooker...

PELLEGRINELLI: Most people are familiar with the metaphor but not the actual device, once a common household item.

LORNA SASS: It was the wedding gift. People got a pressure cooker.

PELLEGRINELLI: Lorna Sass is the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author of "The Pressured Cook." She says when Presto introduced their version of the gadget at the 1939 World's Fair, it didn't take long to catch on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSIE THE RIVETER")

THE FOUR VAGABONDS: (Singing) Rosie, Rosie, Rosie, working on the assembly line...

SASS: When the men went off to the Second World War, and Rosie the Riveter was working, she used a pressure cooker because she had to make dinner fast when she came home from the job.

PELLEGRINELLI: It works using basic principles of science.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEAMING WATER)

PELLEGRINELLI: Water normally boils at 212 degrees, but under pressure it's around 242 degrees. That means food will take a third or less of its normal cooking time. Fabulous, right? But like your pressured co-worker who deploys the chute or goes postal, there could be unintended outcomes.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEAM RELEASING)

PELLEGRINELLI: Exploding meals.

JACQUES PEPIN, Host:

A lot of people now when I say to cook with pressure cooker say, you know, it's dangerous and all that. I say, well, not any longer.

PELLEGRINELLI: Chef Jacques Pepin used the modern foolproof version on his show "Fast Food My Way." It doesn't chug like an engine anymore. It gurgles like a baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESSURE COOKER)

PELLEGRINELLI: Although Americans moved on to frozen dinners and the microwave, pressure cookers stayed popular in Pepin's native France, where more women remained in the workforce after the war.

The cookers are a staple across Europe, North Africa, South Asia and South America because they're economical. They tenderize cheaper, tougher cuts of meat. With the growing American interest in sustainability and slow foods, the cooker could be poised for a comeback.

Unidentified Man: Looks like a whole pork shoulder.

PELLEGRINELLI: Lately, it's even been enjoying some time in the spotlight on TV shows like "Iron Chef."

ALTON BROWN: That's probably going to be pressure cooker bound. Yeah, and it is indeed.

PELLEGRINELLI: Aside from those formerly slow braises, Lorna Sass says pressure cooking is great for cheesecakes, risotto, vegetables, beans. And it won't overheat your kitchen in the summer. She shows me how to make a chili con carne in 30 minutes.

SASS: You're just going to pour the tomatoes on top.

PELLEGRINELLI: There's the thrill of speed without any rush. The pressure - leave that at the job.

SASS: I'm glad you like it.

For NPR News, I'm Lara Pellegrinelli in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: This is NPR News.

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