Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 12, 2013

Ed Hungness: Heinous acts tarnish American staple

BY ED HUNGNESS
Special to the Record-Eagle

— Recently a friend of mine was in the national news.

Sadly, the two Boston terrorists made use of two pressure cookers to construct improvised explosive devices. The result was tragic.

As the story unfolded, I was surprised to learn of their selection of this vessel as a weapon of war. Prior to the incident in Boston, I had not heard of a pressure cooker being used to construct a bomb, but apparently it is common among terrorists. The ironic part of this news event is that I had been planning to write a column about my grandmother’s pressure cooker. Hopefully we can take a nostalgic journey back to simpler and happier times.

It was 1952 and I was running down the sidewalk, heading home after having attended an after-school meeting of Den 3, my Cub Scout group. Since I had gone directly from school to my friend’s house for the Scout meeting, I hadn’t had my after-school snack and I was hungry.

I hurried along the length of the driveway and dashed up the stairs of our front porch. I flung open the door and wasted no time going into the warmth of our home. Coming from the kitchen was the telltale rattling sound of the relief valve jiggling on Mom’s pressure cooker. Dinner was cooking!

From the mouth-watering aroma, I knew what was on the menu for supper: beef pot roast, potatoes, carrots, onions and delicious, thick, brown gravy. Oh how I loved that gravy!

My mother and grandmother had identical cookers and used them often. They were proud owners of Mirro-Matic Pressure Pans manufactured by The Aluminum Goods Manufacturing Co. in Manitowoc, Wis. Produced in 1946, they were even guaranteed by the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

At my young age, I had little interest in the pan itself, but had developed a keen fondness for what came out of it. I was a growing boy and always hungry.

The pressure cooker was invented in 1680 by French physicist and mathematician Denis Papin. He discovered that cooking food with steam under pressure accomplished two things: it hastened the cooking process and tenderized even the toughest piece of meat. Today, I occasionally refer to the device as the microwave of the 1940s. Of course, microwaves had yet to be invented in 1952.

Through the years, our family enjoyed many one-pot meals from that cooker. My favorites were corned beef and cabbage, New England boiled dinners, pigs in a blanket, chop suey, pork steak smothered in mushroom gravy and beef pot roast with vegetables. Talk about comfort food.

I developed an interest in cooking during my college days and when Grandma passed away at 98, I was given her pressure cooker. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I have been successful in locating replacement parts, such as the rubber gasket which seals the pan. Some people are afraid of pressure cookers, but I am fearless and recreate many family favorites.

The treasured pan resides on a kitchen shelf next to the soup pot, complete with original owner’s manual and recipe book. There are notations beside many of the recipes in Grandma’s handwriting reminding me of her.

Each time I use the pressure cooker, I think of our family — many of which are no longer with us — gathered around the dining room table to share a delicious home-cooked meal. I’ll bet Grandma is smiling.

Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed’s retirement. He can be reached at edhungness@yahoo.com or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633