Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cheap Bastid Strikes Again

Cheap Bastid Strikes Again

Whatever happened to Jiffy Pop? At the grocery store we frequent you can still find it stuck up on a top shelf. It now costs $1.99. Dayem, that’s a lot.

Whatever happened to regular popcorn? When did it evolve that the only way to make popcorn at home is in the microwave? Do the math. A bag of microwave popcorn costs about 75 cents.

I can remember when the big innovation in popcorn was the airpopper. About the only way you can find one of those now is at a garage sale or in an antique/2nd hand/junk store sitting forlornly on a table priced at about five bucks. Airpoppers were cool. Just load the popcorn in, stick a bowl underneath and the heated air caused the corn to pop and then roll out of a spout—no oil. Instant “health food”. It was an incredible technological breakthrough in the early 70’s right up there with airpots for coffee or other beverages. They both made great wedding presents or gifts to parents with old fashioned electric burner popcorn poppers or regular coffee carafes.

For some reason, I have recently been on a quest to “re-learn” how to make popcorn on the stove. This is a knack we all had “back in the day”. Just take out a sauce pan with a cover, turn on the burner, pour in a bit of oil, drop a couple of handsful of popcorn, cover and let it pop. (Hmmm, I just now remembered that white popcorn kernels always popped up lighter and fluffier than yellow!) But that was 35 years ago.

So, recently for some obscure reason, I have taken it upon myself—and now enlisted my wife, Carolyn’s, active participation—to make popcorn the “old fashioned” way. On the stove. In a pan. (I’m not going all the way back to one of those baskets that you filled with corn and stick into a fire and pop that way.”

If I were Alton Brown, I’d be talking about the chemistry of heating the moisture in the corn kernel until it turns to steam and causes the kernel to explode itself inside out. Oh, I guess I just did the TMI thing, didn’t I?

So the first time, I just grabbed a sturdy sauce pan, drizzled a bit of oil in it, turned on the stove, and put some popcorn in. Not bad except for a couple of things. Too much oil, too much popcorn, too much heat, too small a pan. It scorched into the bottom of the pan. There were way too many “old maids” and it tasted stale.

We tried again a few days later. Same pan, less popcorn. Still too much heat and it scorched again. Carolyn went on a scavenger hunt in the cupboards for a long forgotten, larger pan and found it. We tried again. Too much heat and not enough corn. I’m getting good at scraping burned black popcorn residue out of a sauce pan.

After much trial and error we’ve got it down (we think). A thin skim of oil in the bottom of the pan. Temperature on the stove set at “6 o’clock”—a solid medium. One third of a cup of popcorn. Shake the pan liberally as it’s popping. Voila! We have popcorn. After about 6 or 7 abortive attempts to replicate the popcorn we could make “in the old” days automatically, without thinking, perfectly every time.

We haven’t saved any money yet. But—you can buy popcorn at Frasier Farms (a local grocery featuring organic and fresh stuff which is a good reason to charge more) for 69 cents a pound. That’s enough for about 5 servings of popcorn—or about 15 cents each. We just got some more today. Let’s see if we can do it right this time.

It’ll be right when we can pop up the corn in about 5 minutes from the time I open the cupboard reaching for the popcorn and pan until I rinse out the pan and carry the bowl (one of my TexasWare mixing bowls) to the living room, plop down on the couch with Carolyn, feet up on the edge of the coffee table, each of us with a napkin and the bowl resting between us on the cushion still hot, not too salty, fresh tasting, ready for the rest of today’s “Monk Marathon” on USA.

1 comment:

  1. Air poppers are still available from Amazon for $20. They also have an Orville Redenbacher branded model for $25.

    They also have microwave poppers that work with or without oil ranging in price from $9 to $22.

    Finally, they have the Stir Crazy, a popper that works with oil and a stirring rod. We had one as a kid, all I can remember is that it was a mess. If you have money to waste, Cuisinart offers a similar model for $69.