I love popcorn. So does nearly everyone in the family. I grew up on popcorn. It was cheap and found in many places: the dime store always had the popper going with steam pouring out of the doors and the popper spilling fresh kernels into a fragrant pile; the movie theater sold little paper bags filled to overflowing; my mother made it just about every night after dinner. She used a pressure cooker with just a little oil and constant shaking over the gas flame. Later she got a wire popcorn basket on a long handle as a gift. Even with practice, much of the popped kernels came out burned. Then she got a machine with a wire that turned on the bottom to keep the popped kernels from burning. She used that for years even as it lost its gleam with age.
Sarah’s boys beg for popcorn. She makes it in an “air popper” that uses a hot air blower akin to a hair dryer to pop the kernels. She fills up a big metal bowl and then tosses the hot popcorn with melted butter, salt, and finely grated fresh Parmesan. Who wouldn’t one beg for that?
René makes popcorn for her girls on Friday evening to enjoy while watching a movie. She sprinkles nutritional yeast to her version, reflecting her enthusiasm for a healthy diet.
Carol’s household has been limiting their popcorn because of a vey long spell of braces for teenagers. Now that braces have come off, popcorn popping has returned to the culinary repertoire.
As for me, I rely on the microwave. I was surprised to learn from Wikipedia that prepackaged microwave popcorn is the most popular way to make the treat at home. The main drawback to that method is that it is relatively expensive. Being a tightwad, I buy two-pound bags of loose kernels. Our family prefers yellow over white – the popped kernels are bigger. For years I have used a popping method I learned about by watching Elton Brown’s “Good Eats” many years ago. I place 1/3 cup of kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, close the bag with two folds, staple the fold with two staples at least 3 inches apart (to avoid arcing in the microwave) and microwave. I set the microwave timer for 3 minutes but pull the bag out of the oven when the sound of popping slows. That usually occurs at about 2 minutes and 30 seconds, but you need to experiment with your own microwave as they are extremely variable in the power they produce. When the corn is popped, I pull it out of the microwave, cut off the top of the bag with scissors, and dump the popped corn into a bowl for melted butter and salt.
I thought I had the perfect system. So I was surprised when I opened a Christmas gift from Susan. It was an Ecolution Micro-Pop® Popcorn Popper. Essentially it dresses up Elton Brown’s idea with an attractive glass bowl housed in a bright red plastic carrier and topped with a red lid that doubles as a dispenser for butter. It makes less popcorn than the brown paper bag method, but it is plenty for one person and it is easy to make a second or third batch. Time in the microwave is about the same, but you need to listen and stop the popping just the same as with the paper bag. I was tempted to use more corn kernels – actually I did – and I strongly advise against it as the popped corn will burn and it will be hard to get it out of the popper. All in all it’s a good and fun method to pop corn. Still, I plan to hold onto my paper bags.
One last comment: Recently we spent a few days in Avalon on Catalina Island. One of our restaurant choices was the Avalon Grille (excellent choice, by the way) where they brought us a basket of delicately chili-flavored popcorn to go with drinks. The taste was light and refreshing, not at all what you might think when you hear “chili-flavored popcorn.” At home, I tried to reproduce the flavor. I mixed equal parts of table salt, vinegar powder (available from Pendery’s Spices) and ground chiles (You can use as mild or piquant as you wish.) Then I used the mixture to season popcorn that had already been buttered. My version was not as good as the original, but it was still good enough to do again.