When I was growing up, my family had a tradition. On Sunday nights we would gather around the table and a big wooden bowl of golden, fluffy and fragrant, freshly-popped popcorn. We sat around and stuffed our faces and laughed and recounted stories together and basically had a grand old time. Sometimes a few of our friends would join with us and that made it all the more fun. We would find something we deemed hilarious to talk about and then laugh until our sides hurt. Dad would cut up apples and pass the pieces around and we would slather the crunchy slices in delicious peanut butter. “Apples with peanut butter?!” I remember a couple of times that some poor friend had never seen such a thing before, and it would garner odd or quizzical stares. Invariably however, if we could just get said skeptical person to try it, the usual response was, “Hey this is pretty good!” Yep. When we had all eaten just about as much as we could, and dad’s offer of more apple pieces was met with, “No really I’m just too full,” instead of, “Well maybe just one more,” we would clear the table and play Apples to Apples and laugh some more until our sides hurt again.
There is an art to making homemade popcorn. From the time I was just big enough to scoot the kitchen stool over to the counter, and then climb up on top of that and sit down with my little legs dangling over the side just as close as mom would let me, I remember watching in awe. She poured just the right amount of oil into the pan, and then poured just the right amount of popcorn into the pan with the oil. Mind you she never measured. She would get that big wooden bowl down from where it was waiting on top of the refrigerator and have it poised on the counter. She turned the electric stove on high and the element heated red-hot. Then the popping started. It was just a few at first but soon the sound was deafening. She gently shook the pan back and forth over the hot coils, adding to the noise. The steam pushed out from under the lid on all sides and filled the room with that glorious fragrance and my mouth began to water in anticipation. Once the popcorn had pushed the lid up and almost off, and a few of the pieces began to escape, in one quick expert motion she emptied most of the popcorn into the bowl and returned the still popping popcorn and pan to the heat, starting again so to speak but whilst already halfway through. Then finally, when the pan was almost full again and the pops became just the right amount less frequent (this is a truly trained ear) she dumped the rest of the popcorn into the bowl and cut off a nice chunk of real cream butter. The butter sizzled and melted golden in the pan. Finally she drizzled the butter over the top of the fluffy kernels, added salt, and emphatically tossed with two butter knives. (The bowl was too full to use any other utensil to stir with) Ah… perfection! I might add that Dad could pop it equally well using the same method, but since he was the official apple-cutter mom usually did it.
After getting married and moving away, I tried to recreate mom and dad’s popcorn. I struggled, burning the popcorn because I waited too long to take it off the heat. (Must listen carefully and never hesitate. Burning popcorn smell is less than glorious.) Then I added too much oil, turning some of the kernels hard and gummy. Finally I ran out of corn oil once and tried using olive oil instead. As I said, I tried this once. This type of stunt you only pull once. For all you novice cooks out there please note this should never, ever be done. Olive oil is a beautiful thing, but popping popcorn with it is a horrible idea. Just saying. And lest you judge me, bear in mind that when we got married, there was no such thing as Pinterest. I’m pretty sure the top wedding gift we received was cookbooks, (I could have opened my own library) none of which had that first thing to say about popcorn. Anyway, after some amount of time I finally got good enough to produce a respectable bowl of the golden fluffy goodness that, to the homemade popcorn connoisseur, is only slightly less great than Mom and Dad’s. Although I never really could master the pop two pans in one step thing. I like to tell myself that it’s just because I didn’t have Mom and Dad’s beat-up looking, wizened old perfect pan.
The downside to the popcorn party is the mess. Thus a couple months back, when a friend at church mentioned her method of popping popcorn, my ears perked up. “I just put some in a paper bag and stick it in the microwave,” she said as we were comparing notes about how we both loved popcorn. “You mean like a small paper bag you would get something in at the grocery store, like a brown paper lunch sack?” I asked incredulously. “Yes,” she answered, “about a minute and thirty seconds.” “And it doesn’t blow popcorn all over the microwave?” I somehow thought that if the bag weren’t closed properly like the premade ones that the inside of the microwave would end up looking like the scene in the children’s story Woody Woodpecker Shoots the Works. Yes, the popping popcorn and shooting fireworks with poor Woody Woodpecker caught in the middle was all I could envision and hear in my head just then. It’s a vintage classic folks and a really cute read. Just saying. She assured me though that all you had to do was fold the bag closed at the top. I could feel my brow furrowing. All this time I had thought that microwave popcorn only worked if it came in the premade microwave bags in the store, which were undoubtedly covered in artificial flavoring chemicals and oils or something that got hot and made it pop in the microwave and probably weren’t that good for you. (Never mind the fact that popcorn companies have taken a hint from consumers in recent years and greatly improved the health factor in several of their neat little naturally-seasoned bags.) Besides, I was pretty sure that microwaving popcorn was against my family’s religion. However, the possibility of having pure popcorn popped fresh without the mess had me intrigued. I went home and tried it straightway. It worked fabulously. I felt like I was having a true epiphany. At the same time though, I felt like I was cheating. I had short-cut a time-honored tradition. A slight mental war ensued… It was so easy though!
Excited at my new discovery, the first person to hear about it while being presented with the product was my dear husband. He looked at me and started laughing. “What?” I demanded to know what he thought was so funny. “That’s the way we did it growing up. I tried to tell you that before a long time ago but you didn’t listen!” Well, that was many years ago. I’m sure I wasn’t about to give up the right way of popping popcorn that easily at the time. Years after messing it up several times and cleaning up the mess had me more likely to listen I suppose. Some things I remember very well and other things I guess I forget very well. Hopefully next time I will remember when someone tries to tell me how to make my life just a little easier. Oh well. Since I’m pretty sure that microwaving popcorn is still against my family’s religion though, just please don’t anybody tell Mom or Dad.
In any case, however you pop your popcorn, I still maintain that it is best shared with friends and family and served alongside a healthy dose of laughter and a side of apples and peanut butter.
I'm Debbie. I love listening to chickens cackle and sing. I love Lindt chocolate truffles, a good cup of coffee, and a good book.