Cook for 2 whistles is the mantra of Indian cooking. Any Indian origin cook will not miss a blink when they hear or read this sentence. That is because anyone who was born after 1960 in India grew up with the pressure cooker.
Hard to imagine an Indian Kitchen without pressure cooker now. It is the first utensil that would be brought for setting up the kitchen. The one dish we cannot cook without the pressure cooker is Daal or Lentils. Daal or Lentil in its many flavors and forms is the main/a source of protein in most Indian kitchens. Just like the different ways daal is cooked, brands of Pressure cookers in India also have the North South Divide. Hawkins in the North. Below the Vindhyas, Prestige rules the roost.
Since pressure cookers are a boon for us in our cooking, I just thought about doing a bit of research and summarizing how they came into existence.
1. Invention : In May 1689: Denis Papin, a French physicist demonstrates his invention ‘steam digestor’ to Royal Society in London for cooking bones. The humble pressure cooker has a long and checkered history after all. The same ‘steam digestor’ is also a precursor for the steam engine. We would neither recognize the name or the object if we see it now.
2. 1915: The term ‘pressure cooker’ first appeared in the ‘Journal of Home Economics’.
3. 1917: USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) establishes 15 psi as an operating pressure standard for pressure cooking. This standard is followed even today.
4. 1939: The shape settles : In late 1930s, an engineer with National Pressure Cooking Co., E.H. Wittenberg, developed an easier sealing mechanism with a rubber gasket clamped between upper and lower handles. Wittenberg’s “home-ec seal” meant that pressure cookers, which provided the fastest as well as the safest method of preparing food, could be used for everyday cooking. In 1939, the company also introduced the first saucepan-style pressure cooker for home use, which it marketed under the trade name “Presto.”
In 1950 about 37% of the American households had a pressure cooker. So why is it that pressure cookers that were Made in America, went out of fashion? Few pressure cookers that were shoddily made without any safety standards gave the bad rep. With the introduction of microwaves and frozen food in the 1950’s , pressure cooker did not really stand a chance.
5. The most important safety component of the pressure cooker is the “safety valve”. The average India Sati savitri – would regularly call it weight or whistle. This is a relic of the first generation pressure cooker. When the pressure reaches 15 psi, then the weight lifts and the pressure is released, creating the whistle or the hiss or the sound.
Now most of them come with an additional safety valve. The small round steel circle that pops out.
Coming to the Pressure cookers in India.
1955 TTK imported pressure cookers from England. Thus started the pressure cooker revolution in India.
1959: HD Vasudeva starts to manufacture ‘Hawkins Cookers’ in India in collaboration with LG Hawkins of England. The same year TK group starts to manufacture ‘TTK Prestige’ pressure cookers in India in collaboration with Prestige UK.
Hawkins based in Mumbai catered to the North and Prestige based in Chennai to the south. Thus started the North – South Divide in the pressure cookers. Now you see osmosis happening and some Hawkins end up on the Deccan Plateau too. And the same can be said about Prestige.