When I was little, I loved to sift through my mother’s recipe cards. I believe a gas station issued a pack of cards with every fill up as some kind of incentive. The cards had to be sorted into a holder according to the type of recipe. Each card bore the number of the category into which it fell. I particularly liked the section on children’s parties and recipes kids could make.
Nowadays, libraries and bookstores are full of cookbooks for children. As a former library employee, I enjoyed browsing these books while shelving them to see what kids might be cooking up. One recipe I don’t find anymore is that for making popcorn. I suppose that’s because today’s kids simply unwrap a package of popcorn and toss it in the microwave.
In my novel, The Tedescos, I chose to write about the old-fashioned method of making popcorn on the stovetop. The first popular home model of a microwave had been introduced in 1967 as the countertop Radarange. It cost about $495 (approximately $3700 today), so it wasn’t practical for my story.
Jiffy Pop, which I had once as a child during the same era in which my novel takes place, was also around, having been marketed since 1959. I believe the thrill was watching the popcorn bursts through the foil because the flavor left much to be desired.
Admittedly, I didn’t bother researching when air poppers came on the scene because, quite frankly, none of these methods were real cooking. Again, for a tasty and fun experience, popcorn made on the stovetop the way Mom did was the best. I know someone out there will gasp and clutch his/her heart when I suggest teaching a child to cook on a real stove, but honestly, a whole generation of children born in the 1970s who learned to make popcorn on the stove with mom are alive and well today.
In my novel, Joe Jr. attempts to make popcorn without his mother’s help. He forgets the oil, has the heat too high, and ends up with scorched kernels. Not to be deterred, Joe Jr. keeps adding fresh kernels to the skillet he’s using, but he never quite achieves success. The following recipe is what he should have done.
3 T olive oil
½ c popcorn kernels
4 T butter
Add the oil and popcorn kernels to a large pot with handles on each side. Put the lid on the pot, and turn the burner on to medium heat. When you hear the kernels begin to pop, gently move the pot back and forth over the burner. A gentle toss during this process encourages un-popped kernels to fall to the bottom. It only takes a few minutes for all the kernels to pop. During this time, don’t be tempted to lift the lid or hot popcorn may fly out and hit you in your face.
When the popping slows to about three seconds between pops, the popcorn is done. Use a large spoon to transfer the popcorn to a clean serving bowl. Wipe the pot in which you popped the kernels with a clean paper towel to remove pieces of hull and any un-popped kernels. Use the pot to melt the butter over a low heat. Pour the butter over the popcorn and salt to taste.
I cook on a gas stove, so I find maintaining even heat to be quite simple. Never having cooked on a modern electric range, I have to assume the burners are like the ones my mother had when I was a child, and that they don’t cool quickly just because one has turned down the heat. I mention this because you don’t want to burn the popped corn while waiting for the last kernels to pop, and removing the pot from an electric burner rather than shaking it back and forth to prevent scorching may be necessary.
PS – Charles M. Schulz of “Peanuts” fame is responsible for the quotation that is the title of my blog post.