HARDBARNED! The Blog

Popcorn: Well Worth The Sticking In The Teeth.

As far back as I can remember, I've loved popcorn as if it were an old, delicious friend, but not everybody does. You might think that my snack of choice, the crispy, crunchy, salty, buttery bliss synonymous with going to the movies, would be universally beloved. Not so, I say.

In my highly scientific investigation into the subject--which consists of offering people popcorn if they happen to be over for a movie, bringing some to a potluck and observing reactions, or publicly quizzing random strangers about their favorite snack foods as conversation allows--at least a few people have declined my offers of fresh, hot popcorn or admitted their general aversion to the snack. Mostly these weirdos cite the universal problem threatening us all: the sticking in the teeth.

Well, nobody likes the sticking in the teeth, but it's a risk one must take in order to experience the best that our world of snacks has to offer, and if you're into oral hygiene, as any healthy person should be, those wee bits will have a very short-lived residency between your gums and chompers. So be bold, snackers. Eat some popcorn. Surely Levi Spear Parmly, or whoever actually invented dental floss, must have loved his popcorn.

Popcorn may be ubiquitous, omnipresent everywhere from the grocery store to the rural county fair, from the urban street parade to the break room at your office, from every movie theatre in the world to your local bank lobby, and at random, inexplicable locales in between, but there's a reason for it. It's cheap, easy to make and smells good, even to those who don't consume it, kind of like coffee. But for those who really love it, even bad popcorn is better than no popcorn, kind of like science-fiction movies.

Lingering sad and stale under a heat lamp, your favorite snack, albeit a lessor version of it, sits behind plastic double doors, in striped paper bags, on the waiting-room end table at the tire shop where they change your oil. Do you go for a bag? You know that popcorn could and should be so much better than this aged, brittle, low-grade chewy stuff. But it's free, and it's better than watching Fox News on the TV bolted to the wall over your head or flipping through that stack of greasy US Weekly magazines.

You grab a bag. The first handful transforms immediately to a dry, styrofoam paste that coats the inside of your mouth, tasting of burned canola oil and regret. There is no soda machine to help you out, but something compels you to keep munching. It must be the inherent, illusive, indefatigable, resolute greatness at the heart of popcorn, quite simply the world's greatest snack.

I have very few books leftover from my childhood, but one favorite remains sealed away in a special box in my dad's basement, along with my original Optimus Prime action figure, intact but for a single missing fist; a couple of threadbare stuffed animals; and a handful of other favorite, well-read books like Frog and Toad are Friends, There is a Monster at the End of This Book and Where The Wild Things Are. Among these few treasured favorites, there is a colorful picture book by Tomie dePaola, and it is called The Popcorn Book.

I don't recall much about the story, other than the popcorn taking taking over a house, flooding the place from floor to ceiling, and the kids riding a wave of it out the front door with glee, but looking back on it via the innerwebs, I see that the book also goes into the history of popcorn and even includes recipes.

My dad can be held responsible for my undying love of the world's greatest snack. As a kid, I would watch as he heated an old pressure-cooker on the stove, simmering two kernels of un-popped corn until they exploded, flying into the air. I would scramble to collect them before dad dumped the rest of the corn into the hot oil, shaking the old pressure cooker furiously to coat the kernels with sizzling oil and putting the lid in place.

The pressure cooker was once green, but by the time my step-mom made him get rid of it, it was more of a deep, dark green, baked in two or three decades of blackened vegetable oil, inside and out, no matter how hard you scrubbed the thing. 

I took dad's training to heart and have never stopped making my popcorn the same way, though i use a plain, flat-bottom pot, not a pressure cooker. The chemical-laden abomination that is microwave popcorn does not cross the threshold of my home, and a hot air popcorn popper, which eliminates oil, and with it, all the flavor, is also unacceptable.

My lovely wife has been converted to my popcorn purist ways, and for a time we purchased our favorite snack in 50-pound bags, which typically lasted us a year. Who's the weirdo now? However, having downsized our living space with each move and currently residing in our third and smallest residence, we find storage space lacking and typically keep only 10 or 20 pounds of popcorn on hand. That's probably still kind of weird, but it's how we do it.

Several years ago, for a good while I was combing the innerwebs' vast reaches for what might be the best varietals in the finest of popping corns, searching for an elusive popcorn nirvana or maybe just exploring what the internet and UPS could offer, as far as popcorn options go. Aware of the tendency of most popcorn to be even more pesticide-infused than the average grocery store fare, I began a search for organic corn.

Some of the best popcorn I have tried is made by the Amish, but surprisingly, that corn--at least the brand that I tried--was not organic. Now I make a special trip to the fancypants grocery for the best stuff, organic yellow or white, and I pop it on the stove with vegetable oil and add fine-ground sea salt, and sometimes real butter. Nothing else compares.

If you think microwave popcorn is pretty good, I am throwing down the popcorn gauntlet with this post. Be bold. Embrace change. Reward yourself. Try the good stuff, without the long list of pesticides, chemicals and flavoring agents. Pop it on your stove. It's worth the effort. You will be so glad that you did, you won't even mind the sticking in the teeth.