I’ve never had popcorn before. Ok, that’s a lie. Just wanted to get your attention. Of course I have had popcorn before as probably everyone else who is reading this has. It’s part of our culture. It’s a pastime. And it deserves to be celebrated.
Popcorn has been around for a long time. Like, since caveman times. In fact, archeologists have found 80,000-year-old corn pollen near Mexico City, very similar to the pollen that is used to making modern popcorn. That means that our ancestors Oog and Glog Redenbacher probably feasted on popcorn, at least once they figured out how that whole fire thing worked. According to Holly Hartman from FactMonster.com, “the oldest popcorn ever found was discovered in the “Bat Cave” of central New Mexico. It is thought to be about 5,600 years old.” I imagine the first person to discover that corn pops wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. He or she probably just tossed an ear of corn into the fire and then started hearing these strange pops. They probably attributed it to the god of fire bangs (stupid cave people). Essentially, when corn kernels are heated, pressure builds within the kernel, and a small explosion (or “pop”) is the end result. All corn has the potential to pop, although some strains of corn are now cultivated specifically as popping corns and produce a far better yield.
Naturally I associate popcorn with the movies. There’s nothing like walking into a movie theater and getting hit by that waft of buttery popcorn. It makes you drool. Lola and I are big movie fans and almost always have a bag of popcorn as our snack of choice (usually with a soda and a box of Milk Duds). I usually eat most of the popcorn and I end up holding it on my lap. Recently we had some where the concession clerk (concessioner?) got a little liberal with the butter which tasted great, but after the movie, when the lights went on, I had a huge butter stain on my pants from where the popcorn bag was sitting (even though it was sitting on a bunch of napkins). Soaked right through the bag and napkins. Something not right about that.
Popcorn is pretty easy to make these days. You can still make it the old fashioned way in a pot with oil and a tight lid, but since the microwave came around, making popcorn is really pushing three buttons and waiting. But before the microwave, and yes I remember those days, your options were limited. It was more of an event to make it at home. There were all kinds of neat contraptions like air poppers and special popcorn makers that were always being sold as the perfect gift. I always wanted one of those, but apparently they were hard to keep clean and not easy to store. The easy fix back then was Jiffy Pop. Jiffy Pop comes in a frying pan looking package and to make it, you just heat it up on your stove top. The aluminum foil top expands along with the popcorn as it heats and pops so your flat pan turns into this giant metal ball filled with popcorn that you have to carefully pierce open to let out all that goodness. Making Jiffy Pop was one of my Dad’s forte in the kitchen. He’d make it for us on special occasions. He’d stand at the stove as the three of us kids would stand around him on chairs watching the magic and wanting to help. Always a man of safety, he’d make sure we were at a safe distance. He probably told us that he once knew a guy that was blown up by being too close to the popcorn. But he’d let us give the pan a few shakes to help the process. His technique was admirable. He’d keep the pan shaking throughout the whole popping process, avoiding any burned kernels or corn. The end result was a big bowl of popcorn which in my mind was the best popcorn I ever tasted.
We have a popcorn pan that we were given as a gift. It’s a Whirlypop, a product of Williams-Sonoma I believe. It actually makes good popcorn. You add in some oil (we use coconut oil because it gives the corn great flavor), add in the kernels, then heat it up on the stove. The top of the pan, which clasps shut to make sure the lid does not come off, has a crank handle which stirs the bottom of the pan while you are making it keeping the kernels moving. That essentially recreates the movement inside the pan that all that moving and grooving my Dad was doing in his Jiffy Pop making. He’d appreciate the Whirlypop. You basically crank and let it pop until you stop hearing it pop. Then you pour it out into a bowl. Lola likes to spice up her popcorn and I find that if I shake in some garlic powder, some popcorn salt (whatever that is) and some parmesan cheese along with some melted butter, Lola is happy. She often attributes her love of popcorn to her sister Cherie who would make the best popcorn. Apparently Cherie has always been a fan of popcorn. Lola says that when they would come home form school, Cherie would make a giant bowl of popcorn and season it perfectly so it would look like the best after-school snack you could ever want. Then she would eat it, and not share it. Lola still suffers from Cherie popcorn envy simply because she knows how much love Cherie put into making her popcorn. I try to recreate that, but Cherie is a bit magical in that department, so I do the best I can.
I did not use the Whirlypop today. I instead decided to opt for microwave popcorn (don’t judge me). It was late in the afternoon. I had been working in my office and Lola was in her space writing. It was time for an afternoon snack and I thought popcorn would be perfect. I started rummaging through our cupboard for popcorn kernels. I felt like I had just bought a jar of them not too long ago. I remember picking to up at Clements. But after about twenty minutes of looking, I gave up. I grabbed a bag of Orville Redenbacher Movie Popcorn instead. I removed it from the wrapper, placed it in the microwave (proper side down), hit the ‘popcorn’ button and in less than three minutes, the corn was popped. I removed it from the oven, carefully opened the bag and then added in the garlic powder and parmesan cheese. I then served some to Lola complete with chopsticks.
Chopsticks with popcorn is something we attribute to her Aunt Gail. I’m sure others have done this, but it was Gail that brought the concept into our lives and it really makes eating popcorn a bit more fun. At the very least it stops you from shoveling popcorn into your mouth by the handful. Plus your hands don’t get all buttery. I suggest you give it a try. Lola was excited for the snack too. I think I caught her at the perfect time when hunger was just settling in but it was too early for dinner. To give Orville his due, the popcorn was good too. It all popped so there was no leftover kernels and the flavor was nice an buttery. It was good popcorn and the perfect snack for our afternoon break.
I didn’t realize it, but I have a lot of memories about popcorn. There was the time when I left a bag of microwave popcorn in too long at work and not only ruined the microwave but created an awful odor that lingered for days. I think I hit 15 minutes instead of 5 for cooking time. That was a big mistake and one the ladies in the office never let me live down. When I was thinking about burning popcorn, I remember working at a restaurant that had a popcorn machine and probably once every month, someone would burn a batch. I can still smell that burning aroma wafting throughout the restaurant for hours. I think about Smart Food and how that became a thing for a while, grabbing a bag late night from the vending machine in the basement of the dorm at college. I recall trying Kettle Korn at the Stratham Fair for the first time as I walked the grounds soaking it all in with Lola by my side. I remember getting popcorn balls for Halloween and always wanting them to be awesome, but they never were. I think about how one year for Christmas we got a huge tub of popcorn (I think it was a gift from my Dad’s work) which was divided into three kinds: Cheese, Caramel and Buttered. It took forever to finish, but I remember it sitting next to my Dad’s easy chair. We would eventually store our Legos in the empty tin once it finally kicked.
Popcorn really is a food that has been in my life forever and it stirs up some pretty clear and for the most part happy memories. Any food that can do that is special and deserves to be celebrated. So let’s keep this 80,000 year old tradition going and keep that corn a popping. There are still more memories to make.
Next Up: National Butter Crunch Day