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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Old Popcorn Bowl

Something funny happened Saturday night. I was hungry for popcorn, but we could find no microwave popcorn in the house.

Throughout our children’s lifetime, this convenient snack (which takes less then three minutes to make) has been a food staple in our home. In recent years we have grown particularly fond of Pop Secret’s “HomeStyle” because its touch of real butter and salt makes taste most like the kind I used to make on the stove as a kid.

Before I tell you what struck me as funny, I need to back up a bit and give a brief timeline of memories and experiences related to this post:

Thousands of Years ago: Western Hemisphere "Indian" nations discovered popcorn, which led Native Americans to introduce it to explorers hundreds of years ago. I was not there to witness this, but I have no reason to doubt that the story we were all told in elementary school is true.

1966-1980: I was the in-house expert pop corn popper in my childhood family. We typically only made popcorn when the whole family was home and there was a good movie or “special” on TV. The older I got, the more often this culinary honor fell to me, and I became very good at it if I do say myself. I put the burner on "high" until the three "test kernels" popped in the oil; then added the perfect amount of popcorn to the oil; turned the heat down two notches; and when the kettle was half full, I removed the lid to release the steam so the kernels would not become tough in the final seconds of popping. And voilà!. I poured the perfect batch into the popcorn bowl.
Never in my childhood did my mother ever buy Jiffy-Pop, which came in its own aluminum frying pan. It was about ten times more expensive per serving than regular popcorn. (These were the "mixed milk" years, and Dad would never allow such a novelty on Mom's grocery list.)

There was one time, however, when my brothers and I were spending the night at Grandma Spencer’s house, and she bought some Jiffy-Pop as a special treat. I was about twelve, and I remember reciting the jingle as I put it on the red hot burner. "Jiffy-pop, Jiffy-pop, the magic treat; as much fun to make as it is to eat!"
But it did not pop as shown in these pictures. Grandma's stove was too hot and the popcorn began to burn when the aluminum “dome” was only about half full. It was one of the great disappointments of my childhood.

(I have never met an eye-witness who has seen Jiffy-Pop perform as shown on TV.) [Update: as you can see in the comment section, I actually have met at least two people who have successfully made Jiffy Pop as shown on TV. Thanks, Stephen and Marcia! That's one of the great things about blogging...it helps expand our knowledge of human accomplishment.]

1971: My brother Dave and I were at an “afterglow” (youth group get-together after Sunday night church) at Nancy W’s house, and everyone was fascinated with her mother’s new microwave oven. None of us had ever seen one before, and everyone wondered how they worked. I asked her if we could put a kernel of popcorn in the oven to see if it would it pop. We tried it and it DID NOT pop. It got very hot, and Mrs. W. stopped the experiment,afraid it might ruin her new appliance. (What we didn’t know is that if we had put the popcorn in a paper bowl with some vegetable oil, it would have worked (would have made a mess, but it would’ve worked), and had we continued the experiment and developed an expandable paper packet we might have become rich. But alas, that was 40 years ago.)
During the early 1980’s: Julie and I used a “hot air” popper. The popcorn made in these contraptions was very dry—so dry salt would not stick to it. Eating popcorn form an "air popper" was basically like eating packing peanuts. So the manufacturers added a little place to put slabs of butter which was supposed to drip on the kernels as it ricocheted into the bowl. The only problem was the yellow plastic part of the machine eventually melted, and the thing looked like they’d been in a fight with a blow-torch.

1989: Microwave popcorn was invented and by the mid-1990s, it became the most common use of household microwave ovens.

Which brings me back to the purpose of this post.

This past Saturday night, Keith and Emily and Nora were visiting because Kim was home from Chicago. Among other “wedding things,” the girls were sorting through family pictures for the photomontage.

I wanted to make some popcorn but could find not a single “packet” in the house…that was when a dormant idea struck me for the first time in two decades: We do have popcorn. I slipped out of the room and went downstairs. On the shelf of antique toys that encircles the basement, there was a decorative container of popcorn—real popcorn—it was something my mom gave us as a joke about fifteen years ago. As I brought it upstairs, Emily gasped, “Gross! You can’t use that old stuff.” I took out Julie’s largest kettle, poured in some vegetable oil, and added the hard kernels.

Here is the strange part, the “funny” part. Not only were my adult-age children concerned about the age of the popcorn, they also gathered around the stove with amazement. Emily is twenty-six and she had never seen popcorn made in a kettle on the stove. They weren’t sure that it would work, and as the lid began rattling like a tin-roof in a hailstorm, and the steam puffed out the rim, and the wonderful aroma filled the air, they stood there in shock and awe. Just at the peak of popping, I poured the yellow fluffy treat into the perfect destination for this nostalgic trip back in time.

Throughout my childhood whenever we made popcorn, the whole family ate out of one large spun-aluminum tub we dubbed “the popcorn bowl,” which was rarely used for anything else. About six years ago, I was visiting Mom who still lived in the house we built back in the 70’s. We were watching a movie called Mother starring Debbie Reynolds, and we made some microwave popcorn and divided the portions into baskets lined with open napkins. “Whatever happened to the popcorn bowl?” I asked without meaning to begin a treasure hunt, but she scrounged around in the dark corners of her lowest cabinets until she found it. “Your dad and I got this as a wedding present,” she said, handing it to me.

I looked at the bowl in an entirely new light. “This is fifty-five years old,” I mumbled respectfully.

“Isn’t that something! I can’t believe it. Where does time go,” Mom sighed, “Do you want it? You’re the one who always made the popcorn.”

It was a bit dented and out-of-round. Even though it says "Mirro The Finest Aluminum" on the bottom, it would be worth only a couple bucks at Goodwill. But its value to me had nothing to do with it's worth (as is often true of treasured things). This container had been my family’s popcorn bowl for decades. It had passed from lap to lap back in the days when our whole family could nestle on the couch between Mom and Dad. It remained the popcorn bowl in the later years when the couch could no longer hold us all. If our family had a holy grail, this was it... so I gladly brought it home and began using it solely for the purpose it had served so many years ago.

And there it sat on the kitchen counter as one by one our doubtful family tasted the oldest popcorn I had ever popped sitting in a now sixty-year-old bowl. To be honest, the popcorn itself was not as good as a fresh-popped microwave bag, it was also twice the work, but sitting there with the old popcorn bowl on my lap as I watched the girls sorting pictures gave me a very unique sense of home.

This post made possible by a "snow day."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long time...no post with you! LOL
Popcorn in my "growing up" years was a treat as well. My oldest sister (16 years my senior) loved to bake...so she'd make popcorn along with a home-made batch of fudge. YUMMY!!!!!

I "micro=wave" popcorn too..using the regular kind of popcorn. About a 1/4 cup in a brown lunch bag with the top rolled. You'll have to experiment for the time..as every oven is different....no oil with it. It's like the old 'air-popped' kind. When done I add some butter and salt to taste then serve.

22/2/11 12:32 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

WSL (Wisconsin Sandwich Lady [now in Florida]),
Good to hear from you.
I think our mistake in '72 must have been trying to pop only one piece in microwave. It was essentially like running it empty.

"Butter and salt" to taste sound good.

I have not been writing much on political stuff this year--either here or at the other site. So thanks for commenting on popcorn. Ha Ha

25/2/11 6:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Popcorn is a good subject to chat about! :-)

I'm a bit worn-out re: politics these days. Wisconsin is volitle and after 3 weeks....just about has me worn out as I already stated.

Thanks for responding!!!

27/2/11 8:23 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Tom, you've met someone who has had Jiffy Pop work like the commercial...only we cook it over on a grate over an open fire on wilderness trips! It's one of the food highlights of the week to have the near bursting dome of popcorn to pass around the campfire!

24/3/11 8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, and now you can say you've met another person who has had Jiffy Pop work the way it is supposed to! Me! Although I do have to say it doesn't work every time. I really enjoyed reading about your popcorn history. I was the popcorn girl in my family growing up and I still like stove-popped corn the best! When our kids were growing up, it was often the Sunday night supper, along with apples and oranges (that was to make it a well-rounded meal. Ha!) If you want some REALLY good popcorn to pop on the stove, I need to have you try some I've been getting from Kalona, Iowa, when I make a trip back home. It's called Tiny, But Mighty. It has an interesting history. Kind of like your story of the old kernels you used! Marcia

14/5/11 6:18 PM  
Blogger Jana Tolley said...

Hi - my co worker and I somehow got on the subject of this "popcorn bowl" - I told her I found one at an antique mall in(I-76 Antique Mall) in Edinburgh Ind where I came across that bowl (much shinyer(?) and with 4 bowls for 18.00. I snatched it up right away since we also had one in our family - my sister has it after dividing up what we were taking from my parents house after they passed. Such memories siting with my dad and sister while mom bowling --our treat nite. Love the sound of it when you are licking your fingers in the salt at the bottom of the bowl. I still make popcorn on the stove -- to me its the best kind . So she brought in hers today to show me and it was fun to see that someone else had the same bowl for the same use !!! jana tolley - highland IN - 6-16-16

16/6/16 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stephen, Marcia, and Jana Tolley,
Thank you so much for commenting on this old post.
Sadly, I have not had much time to blog for several months. I miss it.
To my surprise, Patterns of Ink gets several hundred hits per day from all over the world. I really can't explain how that can be true when my current posts are rare, but it does make me feel like the poem on the banner of the POI post is somehow coming true.
Jana Tolley,
I'm so glad you found a bowl--good price, I might add. And you are so right about the sound the aluminum makes when you "finger sweep" the bottom of the bowl around the old maids that didn't pop. The sound of the friction of the salt sort of reminds me of the way metal snare drum brushes sound--very faint and distinct.
Sorry for the very delayed response to you all.

17/8/16 10:00 AM  

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