(summarised extract from: www.missvickie.com)
The first version of a pressure cooker was created in 1680 by Denis Papin who made a large cast iron vessel with a lid that locked. His version raised the temperature by 15% over boiling, and accordingly reduced cooking time. However regulating the steam and temperature was difficult and explosions were common.
The canning process was later invented in France during the Napoleonic wars as a means of preserving food for the armed forces. This was the forerunner to early pressure cooker patents. The initially large pressure cookers, primarily used in the canning process, in time became smaller and smaller until they eventually became suitable for home canning. These light weight aluminium ‘pressure canners’ for homes were widely used as a means of preserving food in the days before refrigeration.
In 1915 the term "pressure Cooker" first appeared in print and National Presto (USA) installed an aluminium foundry for the specific purpose of manufacturing large sized pressure canners for home use and thrifty housewives everywhere wanted one. In 1938 Alfred Vischler introduced his ‘Flex-Seal Speed Cooker’ at a New York city trade show, the very first pressure saucepan for preparing meals rather than canning. Vischler’s idea was so successful that it wasn’t long before other manufacturers in America and Europe were making many brands of pressure cookers to keep up with the popularity. The new smaller aluminium pressure cookers were perfect for the smaller size of new families and the modern kitchen of the time and they enjoyed widespread popularity in most homes.
During the war, when fuel and food were rationed and shortages commonplace, the pressure cooker fast became a necessity rather than a mere convenience. In 1945, with the war ending, the pent up demand for pressure cookers was tremendous and manufacturers, vying for the market, tried to cut costs by producing cheaper, poor quality pressure cookers with minimal safety features. Everyone knew someone who at some time ended up with their soup on the kitchen ceiling and as word spread about these flawed pressure cookers, people became reluctant to use them.
One by one the manufacturers went out of business as cooks stopped using these post war pressure cookers. Marked with a bad reputation, pressure cooker usage continued to decline, and coupled with newer modern cooking methods such as the arrival of the microwave oven, the art of pressure cooking nearly disappeared in Australia and America. So while Australian cooks were pushing their pressure cookers to the back of the cupboard, Europeans continued happily using their reliable pre-war cookers without problems. Furthermore, European and Asian manufacturers developed new valve systems, safety features and updated pressure release methods. With the introduction of these new “second generation” models with their new safety features, quiet operation and scorch-resistant layered bases, Australians are once again discovering the benefits of pressure cooking with fast, economical, efficient and nutritious meals that appeal to busy and health conscious consumers.
Millions of cooks in Europe and Asia continue to rely heavily on pressure cookers. In countries where the cost of fuel is relatively high, pressure cookers are an economic necessity.
Pressure Cookers Today
The new pressure cookers, with their multiple safety features and improved vent systems, are once again catching on in the Australian market. Busy cooks with hectic schedules, demanding jobs, an active family and little spare time are looking for fast, economical ways for preparing delicious, home-cooked, nutritious meals. Widespread advertising has brought with it a popular resurgence of interest in pressure cooking and now this old-fashioned cooking method is suddenly new again.