One of my keenest childhood memories is that of going to my grandmother's house and being greeted at the front door by the heady, aromatic fragrance of her famous chicken soup. Her windows were invariably clouded with a thick film of heavy condensation and from the kitchen a steady rattling could be heard as her hefty, aluminum pressure cooker released hissing bursts of steam, inadvertently alerting small children to keep their distance. I heeded the pot's sibilate warnings and only approached once the all clear was sounded by grandma — typically done with the swift motion of her hand, signaling me to approach so that she could slip me a taste of a soft, sweet carrot, just plucked from the steaming cauldron by her heat-resistant fingers.
When my grandmother passed away, many years later, my relatives swooped in like birds of prey, helping themselves, without restraint, to her jewelry and furniture, vintage clothing and lace doilies. I was living out of state at the time, and when I finally arrived, her apartment had been picked clean. Still, things worked out well for me. My grandmother and I had always shared a strong bond in our love for cooking and when the vultures had pecked their way through her belongings, to my great fortune, they bypassed her old pressure cooker, seeing it only as worthless scrap. For me, however, this timeworn pot was the equivalent of gold watches and fox-collared sweaters, preserving within it's thinning, alloyed walls, the celebrations of new-born grandchildren, jubilant holiday festivities and the mourning of deceased relatives.
I can still remember opening the cavernous pot that day and, after loosening the rubber seal, impulsively plunging my face in and inhaling deeply as if practicingpranayama. The scent of years of cooked onions and celery rushed in and I was immediately transported back to my grandmother's steamy kitchen twenty years previous. I smiled quietly to myself, as tears, equally weighted with intense sadness and nostalgic joy, welled up in my eyes. How lucky I was to have come upon this cast away old pot which offered a tangible remembrance of my grandmother with every breath I took.
Eventually the lingering smells faded from the pot (probably as a result of me breaking open the seal and drinking in the memories as often as I did) and after numerous relocations into seemingly smaller and smaller apartments, that great, silver hissing beast, misshapen with bulging bottom and dinged and dented lid, was decidedly unsafe to use and, sadly, forced to vacate the prime real estate of my diminutive kitchen. In it's place now sits a modern, shiny, stainless steel pressure cooker complete with safety valves and pop-up buttons. What this new one boasts in design and function, it completely lacks in character, but my goal is to spend the next few decades doing my grandmother proud and permeating it's glaring walls with stories and memories, giving it a life all its own.
Check out next week's blog for some of my favorite pressure cooker recipes and useful tips.