My mother was a sneak when making snacks, and as a mother, now, I see the beauty of this method. If you say, “would you like popcorn?” what you get is a chorus of alternatives that family members would prefer, and no one is satisfied. However, if the aroma and sound of popcorn is allowed to speak for itself, who can really resist?
White popcorn. That is the tender kind grown in Indiana, the kind in bags labeled “Cousin Willie’s,” that is my favorite. I also like red popcorn and black jewel, but I’d rather go hungry than eat yellow popcorn (too tough), and I avoid microwaved popcorn unless I am simply starving. What is that stuff in the bag? White popcorn. I have been known to buy twenty pounds of it for the trunk of my car, when traveling home from the Midwest, before the local stores carried Cousin Willie’s.
My father loves popcorn, and I wonder if we actually ate a giant bowl or two of popcorn every single night, as my memory tells it, in my growing up years, or if I have exaggerated the truth. Coca-cola, popcorn, salt, television. Followed by vanilla ice cream, with chocolate sauce, and more television. That’s the way I remember it.
My mom would disappear into the kitchen, and then emerge with a silvery aluminum bowl, edged as if with pinking shears, brimming with hot white popcorn. My father’s lap was the aluminum bowl’s home base, and the rest of us filled and refilled our smaller bowls from Dad’s. Butter was nice, but not necessary. Salt was critical, in huge quantities. My father often stood at the kitchen counter, the next morning, picking out the good kernels leftover in the emptying aluminum bowl, and licking his finger to pick up the grains of salt.
I’ve tried a number of popping methods over the years, but I’ve returned to the same method my mom employed: the big stockpot, coconut oil if I can afford it, and lots of shaking. I believe my older brother owns the aluminum popcorn serving bowl, but we, too, use the dad’s big bowl method, with a wooden bowl.
My children, though, have come to love a special little twist: I take half the big batch of popcorn into a separate bowl. I melt butter, off heat, in the hot stockpot, then toss the popcorn in the butter. When I pour the buttered corn into the bowl again, I sprinkle the popcorn with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and a touch of salt. Not as sweet as caramel corn, nor as sticky, nor as complicated. And we eat popcorn without the television, almost always. What matters is the quantity, and the good company gathered around the one big bowl.
The secret ingredients are cinnamon, of course, and sneak-erie. I’m eyeing the stockpot right now, but very quietly, quietly…