I Pop, therefore I Am

OK- so here is my popcorn routine.

I am a yellow corn person.  It is fluffier, therefore holds more butter.  I am an Orville Redenbacher fan, though I am preparing to have a Pop Off with Pop Secret.  Popcorn may well all come from the same hybrid seeds these Monsanto days.  I remember when a bag of Pops Rite seeds was 29 cents.  Of course, I’m old.  But the “gourmet” label adds about four bucks to the product.  So now it’s 5 bucks for a tub of Orville’s finest. Like survivalists, I always have an extra in my pantry. As long as it’s sealed, it stays perfectly fresh.  I know folks who add a dribble of water to the opened jar before recapping to keep the seeds moist. I keep mine in an airtight canister after opening, and I use it regularly. So I don’t do that.

Here is my Vicki Pan:

My Vicki pan, 35 years later

My Vicki pan, 35 years later

Note that the gasket removal allows steam to escape...and grease


You can see that I do not spruce the Vicki pan up. I DO wash it, but don’t fuss. The crusted oil signifies sad nights, treats for three sons nights, popcorn instead of dinner nights,  movie nights with girlfriends.   The real benefit of my retired pressure cooker is that the pan is heavy with a thick, very flat bottom.  No insulation, no double walls.  The oil will get really hot, and the flat bottom lets every seed get coated. There should be no floating.

I use corn oil. Canola is soybean based, and Henry is allergic to peanuts, a fellow legume.  I am banishing anything with a chance of creating anaphylactic shock from my home.  And trust me…it is no small chore.  That detour is for another day.



I was brought up on an electric stove, and I perfected my skills popping corn old-school, no flame.  Mom was a baker with 6 kids.  She did not want to light a burner (remember those days? Ya, probably not. ) and she thought the electric heat was better for her sky high cakes. I honor my mother by having a dual fuel- gas on top, electric on the bottom.  Then I dishonor her by being a terrible cook. Except of popcorn. Low bar, I know.

So much easier to melt and administer butter than it was 35 years ago

SO…I put a stick of salted butter in a pyrex cup, and melt it in the microwave- go low and slow, it’ll splatter if you hurry.  This is the perfect delivery system. In pre-microwave days the saucepan of butter could have catastrophic slurpovers. Of course whoever got that popcorn was lucky, but others would be gypped.

Ok- now the main event.  Of course, this is absurd- any chimp can make popcorn. But I have steps, and they guarantee a fun night. No damn microwave popcorn, or air popped or stir crazy will ever yield this magic.

Have two wide bowls ready for the finished product.   Coat the bottom of the pan with oil, place on high heat.  Put 5 pilot kernels int the bottom.  Have the popcorn ready.  When they start to sizzle, add enough popcorn to cover the base of the pan with two generous layers of corn.  Shake to coat the seeds.  There should be no puddles of oil- just glistening seeds.  And alert: this is too much popcorn.  You will do a pour off.

I over pour kernels, empty the top half into a bowl off

In thirty seconds, the popping commences.  Shake vigorously so the popped corn rises, leaving seeds in contact with the hot base.  Shaking means that the old maids are at the bottom, and will not escape to shatter a tooth.

When the popcorn reaches the top of the pan (feel free to peek) I pour out the top half into Bowl 1, letting steam escape and creating room for the rest to pop in a fluffy manner. ( I know, I could just do two batches- but this is so efficient.andd loosening the lid lets steam escape, hence fluffier kernels)    When I was in college, we would pour our popcorn into a brown paper bag so we wouldn’t have dishes.  We shook the bag to spread the butter.  It worked, but a lot of butter was lost to the bag.  Plus,  God only knows what had lived in the bag before we used it.  Although in college, we never EVER cleaned our popcorn pan, so the bag was likely the least of our worries.  We wiped it with a paper towel, presuming it would protect us from all things rancid. I’m still standing.

Also in my college years, (I was already a popcorn legend) I had a popcorn challenger once show me how he popped his corn without a lid to get giant fluffy results.  He demonstrated his technique to a hyper-skeptical me. He uncovered his pan as soon as the first layer had opened.  Honestly, I cannot remember how he managed to avoid popcorn snow.   It WAS college, and we WERE drinking, and he got style points. But I prevailed on taste.

Once the popsounds are intermittent, it is time to call it a batch.  Burning even a few kernels will spoil the taste of the rest,  I attempt to excise all unpopped kernels from the bowl as I pour.  This means I toss out the last bit.   My teeth thank me.

Having two bowls lets me butter and salt for maximum coverage.  The wider and shallower the bowl, the better.  Mine are Tupperware classics, with the added benefit that they have lids to preserve leftovers.  Stale, butter infused popcorn is a great breakfast.

Another fast fact: one of my bowls belongs to Kevin and Deb Matthews.  He brought over marinated chicken breasts  a lifetime ago, and he left his bowl. If he reads this he will demand its return, and I will oblige.  I will also be looking for a Tupperware dealer.  It occurs to me that my popcorn post features two appropriated implements.  Perhaps I am a kleptomaniac.

My yield.

My yield.

His is the clear bowl, mine is yellow.  He wouldn’t recognize his bowl, because his marinade was tomato based, and the stains lasted for about 5 years, until the popcorn and butter grease finally neutralized it.  If I want to do parlor tricks, I can clap these two bowls together and distribute butter and salt in a centrifugal way.

So that is about it.  I am not the cheese/caramel/bacon salt person. A stick of butter for these two bowls is about as good as it gets.  Salt sticks to butter, and so I claim butter is absolutely necessary.

Though I love popcorn with passion, it is not just the smell and taste- it is the associations. Before my inheritance of the Vicki pan, there was a lifetime where it was the only snack in our Joliat budget.  If we had potato chips, they were a side dish to tuna salad sandwiches at Friday dinner. Or a topping on a casserole.

In fact, fudge and popcorn both came from my Mother’s old pressure cooker. (Thank God she kept it after an unfortunate explosion sent the gasket into the ceiling.  That was her last attempt at pressurized cooking)  There were rare nights when three rigid rules were broken-no food after dinner,no  TV on school nights,and no eating in the den.  The eight of us would crowd into the 8 x 10 foot den, watching Ed Sullivan and munching away.

I have never mastered the fudge.   I lack the discipline to watch the thermometer, double check with a ball of chocolate in water, beat butter into a cauldron of hot cocoa and sugar.  Even Mom lost her ability to execute fudge as arthritis set in.  She turned to marshmallow fluff fudge. Bleh. Not even close. Until I die I will remember the plink of  Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate Squares into her magic pan. And the taste of fudge so hard and sweet that it made your teeth hurt.

Obviously,  this post is somewhat tongue in cheek: my popcorn recipe is everyone’s popcorn recipe.  What I am trying to say is- find your ritual, love your ritual, remember your ritual, share your ritual.  That way, through the pan, the taste, the concelebrants, or the joy in the gathering- happiness goes forward. The act of sharing a bowl of popcorn is simple, but it is a thread that has been unbroken for generations. It is worlds away from the single serve butter flavored bag you eat at the desk.

Try it.


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