pressure cookers for nomads

I can hear you already:  “Fieldmouse, you must be out of your mind!  Pressure cookers are big, heavy things that just take up space.”

Hear me out.

Pressure cookers for cooking

Let’s start with the obvious thing first, cooking.  You have probably heard your grandmother, aunt, or uncle rave about how fast a pressure cookers (PCs) cook food.  They certainly are faster than everything but a microwave but there are nomad-friendly aspects that are often overlooked:

  • they can replace other pots like a pasta pot, saucepan, etc.  The material is thick with no hotspots to burn and it comes with its own cover which you don’t have to seal

  • they use less water than boiling, steaming, etc, and this is a Big Deal for nomads

  • they are more efficient with fuel because

    • the cooker is sealed, preventing convection loss to the outside air

    • it uses less water, thereby requiring less energy to heat to said water

    • it takes very little energy input to keep the vessel up to pressure, and you get easy-to-assess audio (jiggler) or visual (gauge) feedback on the temperature

    • they are not affected by low atmospheric pressures you might find at high-altitude campsites.  No extended boiling times and no need to alter your recipes!

  • pressure cooking does not leech as many nutrients as boiling or even steaming

  • you can stretch that nomad budget by quickly cooking beans or doing amazing feats of tenderizing with cheap, tough cuts of meat

  • 15# of pressure boils water at about 250F instead of 212F at sea level.  Over a certain amount of time this will kill microorganisms and may make your food safer to eat

Those are good enough reasons to bring a PC with you on your journeys, but wait, there’s more!

PCs for canning

If your cooker will fit pint jars (preferably elevated) and has a standard weight like the common 15# regulator you can use your cooker for pressure canning. Your canned food items (including meat!) will be shelf stable as long as you keep them in a dark place out of extreme heat.  Run out of power?  No problem.  Someone left the fridge door open?  Your canned food won’t care at all.

There are  two caveats:

  1. Pressure canning guidelines were developed for 8qt canners.  There is nothing magical about an 8qt canner other than increased size over smaller capacity cookers. Since heating and cooling cycles would be faster with smaller cookers this could theoretically end up with less bug-killing time at full pressure.  Moral of the story here is to bring your small cooker up to pressure at a reasonable rate and not as high/fast as you can blast it.  Vent per canning guidelines above before adding the regulator.

  2. Along the same lines, using an outdoor propane or coleman stove could bring many more BTU to the game than your indoor range. Again, get the PC up to temp at a reasonable rate, not with some Apollo-style blastoff that would draw attention from the International Space Station.

PCs for sterility

PCs are a poor man’s autoclave.  You can use a PC to sterilize (not merely sanitize) loose items.  Cloth squares for bandages, needles, anything that won’t melt.  You can even can water or homemade saline in pint jars to ensure it is microbially sterile.  I keep a couple in the house for flushing wounds.

Where to get a PC

You can buy them new off Amazon or whereever, but my favorite source is garage sales and thrift stores.   You can usually get them for $3-$10.  Sometimes you need to replace the rubber seal, rubber blowoff (both trivially easy to do) or regulator.  The regulator is just a specially shaped weight but it needs to be the right one.  You can find them used on eBay or new on Amazon.

I hope I’ve convinced you to consider a pressure cooker for your journey.  It can be a faithful, useful companion.