I sometimes pull a bag of potato chips out of the cupboard and eat a few. Now and then I enjoy pretzels. Once in a while I like corn chips. But I always love popcorn. It doesn't matter if it's fresh or stale, buttered or plain. All I ask is that it’s salted.
The first time I tasted popcorn was the same day I burnt my finger on my mother's iron. I was 4 or 5 at the time. After she had finished the real ironing she unplugged the iron and set me to practice my ironing skills on my father’s handkerchiefs. I moved the still-hot iron too close to the hand smoothing the handkerchief. I probably howled. To console me Mom pulled out a box of movie-theater popcorn that my father had carried home the night before (after having taken my older brother and sister to a movie). I loved the popcorn with my first mouthful. My mother could never have guessed what was to come of having introduced me to popcorn that morning.
Lucky for me I grew up in a home with a popcorn popper. By the time I was 8 I was putting it to good use. But there was one challenge to satisfying my desire for popcorn. My mother was very particular: I could make popcorn only on the weekends. (Only once, when my father wanted popcorn, did my mother relent and let me make it on a week night.)
On Saturday afternoons or evenings (or occasional Sunday afternoons) I made popcorn. I did not, as most people might do, make one or two poppers full and be done. I couldn't do that because I had to plan ahead for a week's worth of eating. Two poppers full would have been good for the day but I knew I would want popcorn the next several days. So I made a roasting pan full-–and my mom’s roaster was no small pan. Take a 60" string, make the ends meet, lay it in an oval, and you will see the size of her roaster. Every week I filled it to the brim with popcorn, then made more and mounded it high. You can imagine that by Sunday, Saturday's popcorn was stale and by Monday or Tuesday, no one else was interested in eating it. To me it was delicious both fresh and stale.
Our popper looked similar to the one shown at left with its three pieces. The bottom had electric coils and a removable plug. The handled section looked like a pan but had a spherical bottom. This was where we put the oil and popcorn. Our popper’s lid was also glass and through it we could watch the first kernels get hot, jump, and then pop. As more popped they covered the bottom of the pan and within minutes all we could see was the mass of fluffy corn juggling and rising higher and higher. It was the kernels on the bottom that popped. Our popper probably held 3 quarts or a gallon.
We never buttered our popcorn. My mom thought that the oil used for cooking it was enough fat. I never knew people put butter on popcorn until we visited my father’s cousin, Evie McClelland. One summer evening we drove the hour or so to their home in Sharon, Pennsylvania, for an impromptu visit. Evie and her husband, Cub, were midway through a bowl of popcorn. She offered the rest to my sister and me. I didn't understand why it was wet. My sister told me it was butter. Sure enough, there was a half-melted spoonful of butter in the bottom of the bowl. Evie's popcorn was delicious, of course, but I didn't feel deprived for eating unbuttered popcorn at home.
As a young adult in college I learned that some people had very specific methods for making popcorn. One person insisted you had to wait till the pan was hot before putting the oil in. Another said the only way to get good popcorn was to put the oil into the cool pan and wait till it got hot before adding the popcorn. I didn’t notice that their popcorn tasted better than or different from mine. My method was simple: put the upper pan on the bottom, measure oil into the popper, add the popcorn, put the lid on, put the plug in the outlet, and wait. And watch. I can't remember how long it took to make a popper full, but not long.
The first time my brother brought his fiancee, Jan, to our house he prepared her for the popcorn situation. He told her not to be surprised if I brought in a roasting pan full of popcorn and asked her if she wanted some. I think they had a discussion about the reasons for popping such a large a quantity. My brother related that story to me about 10 years ago. It was then that he first learned why I made so much popcorn at one time. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.
Through the years I've tried other kinds of popcorn poppers. Air poppers produce popcorn that looks delicious but tastes like packing peanuts--unless it's drenched in butter. And we have one of the old-fashioned stove-top hand-crank poppers. It makes okay popcorn. But for me, nothing compares to the popcorn made in our old popcorn popper.
These days I buy Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! 96% Fat Free and pop it in the microwave. Of the microwave popcorns I've sampled, it's the best I've tasted. But if you ever find one of those old popcorn poppers, please send it my way.
I hope you'll please excuse me. I'm going to make myself some popcorn -- just one bag for now because I can make a fresh bag tomorrow.
This post is a contribution to Carnival of Genealogy #108: Food! which is hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene. The poster is courtesy of footnoteMaven, who makes the most beautiful posters. Thank you both.