High Altitude Cooking

When we moved from California to Arizona, we lived in a beautiful two bedroom condo for a couple of months, allowing us time to purchase and close escrow on our new downsized-retirement home.  The condo came with everything:  including pool, spa, linens, books, board games, laundry soap, cable TV, stereo and CDs, pots and pans, garbage bags, dish towels and an electric range, so on and so on.  Fully furnished for "Snow Birds" to pack their clothes, come from North Cold Town, USA and move in for the "season".  Great place, great deal.

Here's the rub.  Electric stove. Ypes!  Serious cooks want the efficiency of gas cooking.  The pots and pans provided were flimsy/low quality.  And then, enter a difference in the altitude on which we had based all our cooking techniques. 

Cooking times and amount of liquid may vary for certain foods depending upon local altitude.  Water boils at 212 F. at sea level, but the temperature is lower at higher altitudes because the air is thinner.  For instance, the temperature is 198 F. at an altitude of 7500 feet above sea level.  This means that cooking times must be lengthened at higher altitudes.  Temperatures vary also according to the current barometric pressure.  The Tucson, AZ, elevation is 2,643 feet above sea level (at the airport).

Approximate boiling point of water (a decrease of about 1 degree for every 540 feet of altitude):

Altitude

Temperature

  Sea Level 212 F.
  2,000 Feet 208 F.
  5,000 Feet 203 F.
  7,500 Feet 198 F.
10,000 Feet 194 F.

We've experienced problems cooking both rice and dried beans, staples of our diet, using the same cooking times and amount of liquid we used in Fremont, CA, at 13 feet.

We've found that cooking pinto beans absolutely requires the use of a pressure cooker in Tucson.  According to the manual for our pressure cooker, the cooking time and amount of liquid for pinto beans should be increased by 5% for every 1000 feet above 2000 feet.  It doesn't seem like much, but for Tucson that equates to increasing the water by 1 tablespoons and adjusting the cooking time from 25 to 26 minutes, a 3% adjustments.  Mere a slight increase in both pressure cooking time and liquid appears to achieve the results we prefer in taste and texture.

We have not experienced much difference in most baked products except when making Popovers.   I did learn that earlier problems may have been caused by over beating the eggs into the flour, salt and milk mixture.  The instructions have been modified from the original.  Also one article suggests using extra large eggs may achieve popovers that are fluffier/higher.  Biscuits, cornbread and yeast breads have not presented much problem.

Making candies, jellies, yeast breads, cakes, cookies and even cooking meats may require adjustments for higher elevations.  Changes are required for leavenings, sugar and liquids, cooking times and temperatures.  Baking pans must be thoroughly greased to prevent sticking.

As general rule for candies and jellies reduce the final temperature by 2 degrees for every increase of 1,000 feet in elevation.

Since yeast breads rise more quickly at higher altitudes watch closely until the dough has double in bulk rather than judge by time.  For quick breads don't over beat the eggs (See note on Popovers above.).  Raising the baking temperature and amount of baking powder slightly, particularly if you are above 3000 feet.  See recipe instructions on packaged mixes.

For cakes the following adjustments may be required plus a slight increase of  15 to 25 in the baking temperature:

Adjustment 3,000 Feet 5,000 Feet 7,000 Feet
Reduce baking powder, for each teaspoon, decrease: 1/8 teaspoon 1/8-1/4 teaspoon 1/4 teaspoon
Reduce sugar, for each cup, decrease: 0-1 tablespoon 0-2 tablespoon. 1-3 tablespoon
Increase liquid, for each cup, add: 1-2 tablespoon. 2-4 tablespoon 3-4 tablespoon

The websites listed below provide information about cooking at high altitudes.  These include more cooking adjustments as well as a list of cook books for reference:

    
                  High Altitude Western US Cities

                    Elevations are taken from local airports.
   

Albuquerque, NM
Cheyenne, WY
Denver, CO
El Paso, TX
Flagstaff, AZ
Kemmerer, WY
Longmont, CO
Los Alamos, NM
Pueblo, CO
Provo, UT
Reno, NV
Santa Fe, NM
Sedona, AZ
 

 
               5280 feet
               6156 feet
               5431 feet
               3958 feet
               7014 feet
               7285 feet
               5052 feet
               7171 feet
               4726 feet
               4497 feet
               4415 feet
               6348 feet
               4827 feet

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2013
Carleta S. Vineys