It’s National Popcorn Day. If the past can be relied upon as any sort of precedent, such a momentous occasion will likely cause all sorts of curious statistics to surface. Like the Aztecs revered popcorn as a ceremonial costume. Or the ever practical advice that should you decide to stroll from New York City to Los Angeles dropping popcorn along the way, you’ll need to lug along 352,028,160 kernels, give or take a few old maids.
Look, popcorn deserves deference. But instead of pondering the larger role popcorn has played in our culture, why not consider the smaller popcorn-centric moments that play out in our own timelines? When you think about it, for quite a lot of us, any day can be popcorn day.
4 years old Dad comes home with a West Bend popcorn maker, the kind that sits on the countertop and slowly, mesmerizingly, stirs oil beneath a domed plastic lid that doubles as a serving dish. Life takes on new meaning.
5 years old The nuns at my brother’s school denounce the CrackerJack tattoo on my forearm as “defacing the body that God made in his very likeness.” Seems pretty likely I’ll end up in hell.
6 years old Mom takes my older brother and me to the lake to escape the oppressive summer heat. They splash in the water all afternoon. I sit on the beach, content to sit on our beach towel and nosh on a tub of caramel corn. Since then, the scent of coconut oil and caramel are inextricably intertwined in my mind.
7 years old A playmate tells me that her family has popcorn every night. First pang of envy.
8 years old My dad takes me and my brother camping and surprises us with Jiffy Pop popcorn, the kind that comes in a pseudo tin pan with a wobbly, too-short handle for holding over a campfire. He waits until dark descends and then proceeds to scorch it terribly, just as he did our toast that morning. We eat the blackened, half-disintegrated popcorn anyway, just to make him feel good.
Later that year, I see a garland of popcorn in a store window and beg my mom to make one for our Christmas tree. She hands me a needle and thread. My thumb still bears scars from the countless pricks suffered attempting to needle my way through hundreds upon hundreds of kernels of corn. But our tree that year? Breathtaking.
9 years old Ever health-conscious, my mom buys an air popper, the kind with the tornado cylinder that goes round and round, much like the ride at the amusement park that makes everyone chartreuse. I like it more for the heat it emits in our drafty farmhouse than for the insipid effect it has on popcorn.
10 years old Grandma makes a batch of homemade caramel corn. I burn my lips snatching a clump as it cools on the counter, baffled at how something could be so crisp and tender and sweet and salty all at once. CrackerJack is forever ruined for me.
11 years old Dad discovers he likes liberal amounts of Lawry’s salt on popcorn. I lobby for a second, unsullied bowlful all my own.
12 years old Parents sit me down to tell me they’re divorcing. Having clearly thought through this life-altering event, they commenced The Talk by placing a bowl of perfectly cooked popcorn before me. Pass the butter, please.
Dad moves into an apartment just blocks from the town movie theater. He and I stroll there some evenings to buy a tub of takeout popcorn to share on the walk back to his place.
13 years old First hand-hold with the cute quarterback on the JV football team. I don’t recall which movie we saw. All I remember is waiting, waiting, waiting, and then suddenly the slippery feel of his fingers, thickly coated with fake butter flavoring.
16 years old My mom, brother, sister, and I move to Phoenix, leaving behind my dad, his domed popcorn popper, and the popcorn of my childhood, grown just miles from our farm. Takes me a long time to find a suitable substitute.
18 years old The only popcorn at the store near my college campus is the microwave sort, ridden with ingredients I can’t pronounce, let alone care to taste. I wonder if college is all it’s cracked up to be.
24 years old While waiting for my boyfriend to escape work on Capitol Hill, I rely on fat-free, nothing-nasty-added microwave popcorn to tide me over till dinner. My apartment has no microwave, so I pop it at the 7-11 around the corner. Two cops frequent the store at the same time as me. They holler “Popcorn!” each time they see me.
28 years old A new and charming guy, E, makes popcorn for me the proper way, in a big pot on the stove with the lid slightly ajar. I realize this could be serious. That is, E. Not the popcorn.
29 years old Turns out E shares my love of not just popcorn but Champagne. One night it occurs to us to try them together. A revelation!
30 years old A well-intentioned but woefully misguided doctor cautions me from eating popcorn. Purported food intolerances, he says, not even looking up from scribbling notes in my file. Frantic research turns up a tender, hulless variety known as Baby White Rice. Light, airy, and sweet, it poses no problem. Close call.
32 years old E’s still around, and newly intrigued by kettle corn. He sets out to perfect his own sweet corn technique, seeking an approach that yields something not too sweet, not too scorched, but just right. In a moment of brilliance, he places a splatter screen over the pan rather than a lid. This precludes the need to balance the lid just so and ensures he can steadily peek to see when it’s the perfect time to sprinkle sugar over the corn [EDITOR’S NOTE: it's when the surface of the pan is barely covered with popped corn]. It also affords him the unmitigated and boyish pleasure of watching the kernels pop, one by one. Yup, it’s serious.
Our Favorite Popcorn Recipes
Wok photo © 2009 drmuerte. All rights reserved.