The other night I decided I wanted some popcorn so I reached up into the cupboard and pulled down the whazootzit microwave popcorn popper. Two small scoops of corn, one tablespoon of oil. Two minutes and twenty-two seconds later I had a big bowl of freshly popped, unburned popcorn. Added some salt and ate.
I thought about home and the pop corn we had. I lived in a small village and of course Poppa prided himself in his garden. He grew at least six stalks of popcorn each year, so when we wanted corn, we went to the basement got an ear, and shelled out what we wanted. Now there were two ways to pop corn in those days: the first way was in a pot on the big old wood/coal fired cooking range, and the second way was to pop it in the fireplace.
Now what we had for a popper was a little basket made of screen-wire, with a slide-open top, and a long handle that had a wooden end so you would not burn yourself. In our house we had two fireplaces, one in the living room and one in the front bedroom, and on Sundays and holidays we would build a big roaring fire in the fireplace and then at night we would pop corn. That was so much fun, and it was really an art-form.
You would put the corn in the basket, close it, then hold it over the flickering flames. When it started to pop, you would need to hold it high enough so the popped kernels would not catch fire. Well, me being always anxious, I would hold it too close to the fire and inevitably it would catch fire. As soon as it did, I would try and blow it out. Heck, at first, when I was younger...don't remember the age...but when I brought it close to blow out the flames, it would hit my face. So the old screen marked me. But I remember that my sister Bill would sit and hold the popper and study the fire and the flames, and she very seldom ever let her popper catch fire.
Man-oh-man, I would watch Bill and watch to see exactly what she did, then when it was my turn, guess what? Mine would catch fire. Well, actually, if you blew it out quick enough it didn't taste all that bad. In the country they used to say that ashes or charcoal was good for worms, so, heck, it's no surprise that I never had worms. I ate a lot of charcoal-popcorn.
Now the big thing to me, as a small kid, was when we would have company and the folks would play 'Rook' while we popped the corn. That was when Ma would break out the big old bowl and empty each batch of popped corn into the bowl. When enough was in the bowl, she would add some fresh butter. Mrs. Smeltzer's butter was melted and poured over the corn with just the right amount of salt. It was good when it was hot, but heck, when you got the bowl away from the heat of the fireplace, over where it was cold, the butter got cold and yuuuuks!
Oh yeah, I forgot one of the good parts. That was when you caught the popper on fire. That was when you just dumped the contents into the fire. If there was a big old flat spot on the log, then the unpopped kernels would land on it. Or matter of fact, I always tried to dump the popper on a flat spot on the log, or chunk of wood in the fire. Then when the unpopped kernels got hot enough, they would pop and some of them would fly out of the fireplace. We would either try to catch them or quickly pick up the popped kernels. Heck, one time, I think it was over the Christmas holidays, I put a little scrawny ear of popcorn on the flat spot of a burning piece of wood and it was oh so neat to watch the kernels start to pop. Kernels would fly everywhere, that is until some of them flew out of the fireplace. I got most of them before they could mess anything up though.
One time the sisters were going to make popcorn balls and it so happened that we had a fire in the living room fireplace. I said I would pop the corn in the fireplace instead of them popping it in a big pot on the stove. I guess to get me out of the kitchen they said ok, but no burnt corn they told me. So I started, and heck, when I blew it out real quick, I thought it was ok. Shucks it tasted OK to me, so they were a popping on the stove in a pan and I would bring my popper full from the living room and dump it into their pot.
Later, they got the candying ready and when they started to pour it in, they started looking and they said I had ruined the whole pot with my burnt corn. Shucks, it took me a week to eat that big old pot of corn, and never again would they let me help. Shucks, I thought a little brown on the corn made it better.
As I got older, my technique got better, and shucks, sometimes I could do two or three poppers full without catching them on fire. Funny how age and experience makes you better at popping corn.
When my mother died and we were going through the house, I asked about the popper and was told that it had been given to the Obenchain kids, for they too loved popcorn. I decided the next time I saw Charlie I would ask if he had the same problems as I did, for he was younger.
Now that I think of it, I can remember that we would take the cover off an eye on the old cook stove and pop corn over that on winter nights. You know, besides licking the bowls and popping corn, we did a lot of simple things. I smile as I think of Sunday nights, sitting in the den eating popcorn and listening to the radio. Heck, Sunday night was Charlie McCarthy night, and oh you know....all those radio programs we used to listen to on Sunday night when we were kids.
© By Tom (TOMWYO@aol.com)