The Popcorn Pot

The Popcorn Pot

This Sunday was movie day at our house.  The kids had been looking forward to it all weekend, and had behaved JUST good enough that my wife had not had to cancel the whole affair (it was touch and go for a bit that morning during Princess Checkers – but they pulled it out).  As we agreed on the film selection and got ready to head upstairs to the movie room, all we had left to do was pop the popcorn.  That could mean only one thing – time to get out The Popcorn Pot.

There are hundreds of ways to prepare popcorn, and I’ve tried most of them.  There’s the old school Jiffy Pop method – but while it’s incredibly cool to watch that foil dome expand like Doug McKenzie trapped in the beer tank in “Strange Brew” – the popcorn invariably comes out burnt and metallic tasting.  There’s the healthy alternative air pop method – but I’m not a big fan of a bland snack that’s been popped by a confused hair dryer masquerading as a kitchen appliance.  There’s the microwave popcorn route – but I’ve found that it’s far too easy for the popcorn illiterate to destroy a microwave if left unsupervised – What? I hit the popcorn button on the microwave and walked away.  Isn’t the microwave supposed to shut off automatically once the bag bursts in to flames?”    I’ve tried just about every way invented to prepare popcorn, and I’ve discovered that the simplest way is the best; oil, salt, popcorn, gas stove, and a sturdy metal pot.  But not just any pot – you have to use The Popcorn Pot. (And yes – you do have to say “The Popcorn Pot” with all capital letters.  It’s no ordinary pot; it’s something special.)

The Popcorn Pot has been a part of my family since before there was a “my family”.  My parents received it as a wedding present at my mom’s bridal shower.  It’s a standard stovetop pot, manufactured by Regal Ware sometime in the late 1960’s.  The interior is covered in Teflon and the exterior is a shade of avocado green that would be instantly recognizable to any child who grew up in the 70’s.  (Mercifully, that shade of green was banned by Congress as part of the “What the Hell Were We Thinking?” National Dignity Restoration Act of 1984.)

Plain and functional, The Pot has always been there for me – a culinary Rock of Gibraltar, if you will.   We didn’t recognize The Pot’s true calling right away.  Over the years, it has had many uses.  It was pressed in to duty for everything from macaroni and cheese, to mashed potatoes, to boiled hotdogs.  It followed me to college, and eventually on in to married life.  At some point along the way, it found it’s true calling and settled in to a comfortable life of popcorn exclusivity.

To truly unlock the magic of The Pot, you first have to make sure that you have your popcorn basics down first.  To start off, you have to coat to bottom of the pot with enough oil to cover all of the kernels, but not drown them.  Too much oil and the popcorn will taste like it has been used to comb John Travolta’s hair at the beginning of “Grease”.  To little oil and the popcorn will burn – leaving you with something more akin to fluffy white charcoal briquettes.

After you have the right amount of oil, you add the popcorn kernels (we always go with Orville Redenbacher – why mess with a classic?)  Here is where it gets tricky.  You need the right amount of kernels to ensure that the lid pops off of The Pot.  This, above all else, is the sign of a true popcorn master.  Too little popcorn and the lid stays on The Pot, steaming the popcorn into a mush-like consistency.  Too much, and not only will you pop the lid off of The Pot; the popcorn will overflow onto the open flames of the stove.  (Based on the events of The Great Popcorn Fire Incident of 1996, I can assure that this is not something that you want to witness for yourself.  While The Pot survived – my Chucky The Chimp potholder was not so lucky.)  The perfect amount of kernels will pop the lid up 2 to 3 inches, while keeping all of the popcorn firmly in The Pot.  This tower of popcorn engineering – lid sitting askance a mound of freshly popped goodness – is the ultimate goal of popcorn connoisseurs everywhere.

Now, at this point, I’m sure your saying to yourself – “Self – this doesn’t really seem all that special.  You put some popcorn in a pot and pop it.  That’s it?  I was expecting something life changing in this story.  I was expecting to witness culinary greatness.  I was at least expecting to hear about someone almost losing and eye to an errant popcorn kernel.  What gives?”

You’re right to ask that question.  You could replicate the above instructions with any old pot out there.  But I’m here to tell you; it wouldn’t be the same.  We’ve tried before.  In a moment of weakness, my wife and I gave The Pot to my brother and his future wife, just after our wedding.  Flying high on the promise of brand new cookware, we failed to see the inherent beauty of The Pot.  The new cookware did not perform up to standards, and we quickly made arrangements to get The Pot back from my brother (guessing correctly that he had no idea of the cooking treasure he had in his possession).  What I have shared above is the technique of popping perfect popcorn – not the secret.  The secret, you see, is in The Popcorn Pot itself.

The Pot, as I mentioned earlier, is older than I am.  In much the same way I have begun to lose my boyish good looks (no comments from the peanut gallery – that is what’s called poetic license) – the pot has begun to lose its Teflon coating on the inside.  Therein lies the secret at the heart of The Pot.  The little bits of Teflon we lose each time The Pot is heated provide that last bit of flavor that makes for the perfect bowl of popcorn.  “Wait a minute,” you say – “that can’t be healthy.”  Probably not – but I’m after tasty popcorn here, not healthy popcorn.

In the last few years, I’ve begun to teach my children the art of popcorn popping.  In much the same way I imagine Stradivari revealed the secrets of violin making to his children, I have shared the secrets of The Popcorn Pot with my family.  My son is eager to learn, and eager to try – but it takes years to pop the lid off of The Pot like a master.  Still – they are learning – and last weekend my daughter told my wife – “Daddy is the best popcorn maker in the whole wide world”.  It warmed my heart.

The Popcorn Pot has always been there for us – in the good times and the bad.  Still, we are human, and there have been moments when we have been tempted to discard the old ways and strike out on a new road.  A few Christmases ago, we received a nice theater-style popcorn popper as a present. We were excited at the time because it made our theater room feel much more fancy.  We eagerly set the popper up, turned on the rotor, and let the machine do its work.  As we watched, the popcorn began to spill out of the shiny silver bucket – just like it does in the big machines at the movie theater.  It made us feel like we had really arrived.  It had all of the wonder and whimsy that you felt during your first trip to the theater as a child – and it tasted like crap.  Dry, tough, and with a faint taste of plastic – it was everything you didn’t want in a bowl of popcorn.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.  Sometimes simple is better.  Sometimes change for change’s sake isn’t the right road to follow.  I never should have doubted The Popcorn Pot – never been drawn in by the promise of big time Hollywood Glamour Popcorn.  It was okay though.  The Popcorn Pot is family.  When I went downstairs, it was waiting for me there, with open lid.  It didn’t judge me, it didn’t ask questions – it just accepted my apology and turned out yet another Teflon coated batch of the best popcorn you’ll ever taste.

© 2010, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.

One Reply to “The Popcorn Pot”

Leave a Reply