About 35 years ago, I was watching a National Geographic program on TV where an African woman was cooking (I don’t remember from which particular culture). She had put coals into a hole in the ground, placed a pot filled with foodstuffs on top of the coals, and carefully balanced rocks on the lid to make a crude form of pressure cooker. I was intrigued.
At the time I had the typical “fresh-out-of-college” bookshelf made of boards and decorative cement blocks. One of the blocks had busted in half and I thought I might experiment using it on top of lids while cooking to decrease cooking time, like a real pressure cooker.
When people visit for the first time they are miffed by this rock. Even old friends who help cooking in our kitchen are a bit reluctant to place the cooking rock on the lid of a pot. To other eyes, this rock seems out of place, anachronistic even. It looks like an archeological find. The rock weighs 6 ¼ lbs and used to be a rose color. It has gotten darker, greyer, richer over time.
I have used this rock for a long time to cook rice, steam vegetables, boil liquids. It has secured the lid on paellas, applesauces, and omelets. It has accompanied the cooking of beans, seafood stews, and even chai tea made from scratch. It has weighed down my grandmother’s recipe for sweet and sour meatballs, and stuffed cabbage. Curries and Yassa au Poulet, Jacob’s Guile, and Marmitako have all tasted more savory because of the weight of this rock. The flavors of tomato sauce, Potatoes Punjab, and Turkey Chili have all become more complex under its pressure.
And, of course, more important than the dishes themselves are the friends and family who have shared in the results of the work of this rock, from the meals celebrating important passages to the more ordinary meals. Sharing the food we have cooked together is one of the greatest pleasures in life.
This cooking rock’s once rough texture has softened and smoothed over the years with delicious story and generous flavor.