Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Simple Act of Popping Corn

Homemade buttered popcorn, made the old fashioned way, in a pot on the stovetop, can truly bring folks together. Make some and see where it takes you!

Old Fashioned Homemade Popcorn

Don't think I've gone off the deep end for publishing a "recipe" for popcorn. Today's post is more about a story than a recipe. It's a story about the simple act of popping corn.

I don't mean sticking a bag of popcorn in the microwave either. Not that there is a thing wrong with that of course! Heaven knows I've popped my share in that metal box, though today we most often eat it popped in a hot air popper.

I love that little thing!! No, this is about pouring popcorn kernels into a pot with some hot oil and popping corn on the top of the stove - like we once used to before those air poppers were around and before microwaves were a central appliance in our homes.

One day recently, when my son and daughter in law came to pick up the grandkids, on the kitchen counter sat the remnants of a large bowl of cold popcorn we had popped earlier. My son dove right into that bowl and looking a little nostalgic, mentioned something to the effect of "I used to have popcorn like this at Nuna Helen's house. We used to make it all the time." Nuna Helen was what my son called my mama, and I took notice that his memory was not of having popcorn with his mama even though we'd certainly had our share of popcorn together, but he remembered sharing it with his grandma. It hadn't even occurred to me when I made popcorn for my grandkids that day - it was just an automatic thing to pop some popcorn while they were here. Seeing my son munching on that popcorn and hearing him say that, brought a smile to my face and a warm feeling, deep in my heart.

There really is something magical that happens when the corn begins to pop. It gathers up people from all across the house. It brings people together. The aroma instantly transports your mind to memories of people and places long passed. Times where people engaged with one another instead of being glued to some handheld contraption. Times with family gathered around the television. Sitting and coloring with your grandma. And, it might even make your mom, dad, and even your grandma, recall days past with her own grandma. Yes, the simple act of popping corn can do this!

Don't believe me? Joan T. is a reader from the New Jersey area who is dear to me and we've exchanged emails with one another for awhile now. In late October, Joan shared something that touched my heart so deep, that it caused my eyes to well up. Y'all do that to me often with your letters. You want to know how magical the simple act of popping corn can be? Joan gave me permission to share with you, what she shared with me. I might as well warn you. Better grab a tissue.
"You know my Mother is in hospice in long term care. She doesn't eat much but I still cook... ok so today I was given permission to bring in a hot plate and make "home made" popcorn.

Mother is on a hospice and dementia ward with most of the aides & caretakers from other countries. Anyhow, you would have thought popping corn was magic.

Of course I let a couple of the bouncing kernels pop out of the pan before I put the lid on. Many of the residents who are cognitively impaired or with dementia smiled, and couple laughed. Maybe it was the real butter and salt. The Doc on duty was good and said that wouldn't hurt them.

The smell must have spread as I was asked to make more on the rehab section. Comments like "wow, microwave doesn't taste like this," "do you have a recipe?" and "is it expensive?" were heard.

Expensive.. haha, must have cost me one dollar to make three big pots full.

Mary, just more proof that cooking is a tangible form of Love. Mom smiled and called me a "good girl" and several other residents hugged me. I know that they can't explain with words what they were thinking, but something as simple as 'old fashioned' popcorn, maybe it was the smell, got through to them."
You see? This is the connection that we have to our food and one that other folks who live outside of the southern region of this country sometimes just don't understand. Until the magic happens. For us, food is love. The act of preparing and sharing food is way more than the physical process of preparing it and the act of nourishment. It nourishes our soul too and it's a very big way that we southerners express our love. When a southerner sets a plate of food that they have lovingly prepared down in front of you, know that it is an expression of our love.

Sometimes it may be nothing more than the simple act of popping corn for it to be magical. Joan's mother passed away not long after she wrote to me. I am glad that she was able to share her love with those elders with something as simple as the act of popping corn. Sometimes, that's really all it takes.

We usually spend time with the grandkids at their house because that is where all their "stuff" is, but when they come over here, you can bet there will be chairs pulled out from the table with caves fashioned from blankets. There will be things to color and cut out and play pretend, and other simple old-fashioned fun things that don't require batteries. And, I can guarantee you that there will be always be popcorn popped, on the stove, just like my mama did and just like her mama before her did. I want that same feeling to reside in the memories of my own grandchildren.

One important note. These instructions are intended for a gas range top, or the old fashioned coil type of electric stoves. Most of us have a glass or ceramic cooktop these days, so to make popcorn the old-fashioned way without damaging your cooktop, you'll want a popcorn popper that allows you to stir, rather than shake the pot, like the original Whirly Bird popper.

Now, go make some homemade buttered popcorn the old fashioned way. You'll save a few bucks, and you'll get to see the magic happen.

By the way, here's how I like to make buttered popcorn. I have a couple variations I do to flavor it sometimes, but this is the basic way I make it, in a vintage Revere Ware Copper Clad 1970-something pot, on the stove. Using a paper bag isn't written in stone of course, you can certainly manage without it. But it does have a great way of distributing the salt evenly all over the popcorn - something that you don't get tossing it in a bowl.

For more of my favorite snacks, visit my page on Pinterest!

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Recipe: Old Fashioned Homemade Popcorn

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 5 min |Cook time: 5 min | Yield: About 4 quarts

  • 2 tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup of raw popcorn kernels
  • Large pinch of kosher salt

Set aside a large paper grocery bag. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and three corn kernels in a large heavy bottomed lidded pot, cover and heat over medium to medium high heat until you hear a pop. Uncover and add in the 2 tablespoons of butter and the popcorn, stir together and cover the pot. Using oven mitts to protect your hands and arms from the steam, with two potholders to hold your pot, gently shake the pot back and forth over the burner constantly until popping accelerates and then begins to slow down, with a second or two delay between pops.

Remove from heat and carefully pour the popcorn into the paper bag. Season with a large pinch of kosher salt, close the bag, shake well. Transfer to a large bowl, or several small ones and serve immediately.

Note: These instructions are intended for a gas range top, or the old fashioned coil type of electric stoves. If you have a glass or ceramic cooktop you'll need a popcorn popper that allows you to stir, rather than shake the pot, like the original Whirly Bird popper.


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Posted by on December 1, 2011
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  1. That sounds fantastic. I loathe microwave popcorn; it seems to have an oily, chemical aftertaste to me. Recently bought some coconut oil to pop popcorn with. Not the healthiest choice but very, very delicious :).

  2. I know this is about as unhealthy as it gets, but I used to pop corn using bacon grease. My 38 year old son asked me to make it for him the next time he comes home. I hadn't thought about that in years...

  3. Try adding in a few drops of Tabasco to the oil for a spicy treat. We've been doing that for years and it's delicious!

  4. A bag of popcorn is going on this weeks shopping list! Thanks for bringing back the memories of Dad making popcorn.

  5. Mike I'm starting to get a sensitivity to chemicals so I know exactly what you mean!

    Bacon fat - yes indeed! And hot sauce, definitely! Was trying to get a post up after battling computer issues here lately, so I'll add in the variations later, including these two wonderful suggestions. I have a few more too. :)

  6. Funny you should post this. My "baby" will be 23 in February and still lives at home. About a year ago, she wanted popcorn. I said I thought we had a bag over the stove. She said no, she wanted REAL popcorn. And ever since, we have been popping it on the stove again. And even kept in an airtight container, it is still good a couple of days later. And the grandkids LOVE seeing that bowl on the kitchen table now! They don't look for microwave popcorn anymore when they open the cabinet; they look for the container of loose popcorn kernels we now keep. Wishing everyone an "old-fashioned" Christmas from NC!

  7. You're welcome Sandy - thanks for reading my LONG post!!

  8. I am one of 10 kids, growing up in the 60's and early 70's. Every Sunday we would gather in the kitchen as my Mom or Grandmother would pop popcorn in the big dutch oven and pour it into paper grocery sacks! We would normally have Kool-Aid with it, on the RARE occasion we got a soda, not our own "bottle" we bought the large 32 oz glass bottles in 6 packs and my mother would get out the measuring cup and measure out our "coke"!

    I think of those moments now when I pop popcorn for myself and my husband, and I sometimes "spice" it up with cracked black pepper or garlic salt or even cinnamon/sugar mix!!

  9. Instead of salt we use a couple of shakes of Old Bay Seasoning. Gives it a nice zip.

  10. I love it Lorelei!!! Merry Christmas to you too.

  11. Hey Marla! Yep, gotta have the Kool Aid too for the "kids" ;)

    Thanks so much for your add-ins -- keep 'em coming!

  12. Nothing like "REAL" popcorn.

    Years ago when there were drive in movie theaters, we popped popcorn and put it in a big paper bag. Time we got to the theater, the popcorn tasted like paper bag!

    Since that time, I have not used a paper bag. I'll have to try it again just for mixing the salt.

    I just use oil - no butter. May have to try your way of adding butter to the mix.

    I use this salt and love it. That bottle will last me a year (I cook popcorn several times a week).

    Popcorn salt really makes a difference. Sometimes I use this salt for popcorn and always using it in my buttercream frosting.

  13. WOW Mary! This post blew me away! Not only did it bring back sooo many memories I had forgotten, it completely summed up how I feel about feeding people all the time. I couldn't have worded it better myself. I am constantly cooking or baking for neighbors or friends 'cause I love doing it ,it makes me feel good to do it.Thanks for a GREAT post.

  14. Hi Mary, now that brings back memories of having popcorn with the kids! It was one of our favorite snacks, popped in a black popper with a stirrer. I now have a Whirley Popper.I like to use bacon grease or half oil & half bacon grease, takes it up a notch! Don

  15. My sister and I were talking the other day about how when we were very young, on Friday nights our daddy would make pop corn this way (back then this was the only and we would also get a glass of coke ( which was a treat in it self because this was the only time we could have a soda ). This was always a special family night !! Such fond memories ~~~

    Dora in Gulfport

  16. Microwave popcorn just doesn't cut it when compared to the old way!

  17. You brought back memories of my Daddy popping popcorn every Sunday afternoon after church. He always dumped a couple pots full into Mama's old aluminum dishpan. Being one of four boys in the family, we would gather round that old pan and eat with our hands.
    I am sure we looked like four little "piglets" at a trough eating that popcorn, but sure was good. Daddy would buy it by the case. Thank you for the post and your blog. I certainly enjoy it and use your recipes all the time. It brought back childhood memories from a long time ago. I am now 70.

  18. We like Kettle corn at our house. 1/4 cup oil of choice (we use light olive oil) 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup popcorn. Heat on med and add a couple kernals. When they pop, add the rest of the popcorn and the sugar and give it a stir. Put the lid on and shake every few seconds until you only hear a few pops. Dump immediately into a bowl, don't leave in the pan the sugar will scorch quickly. Add salt to taste and toss. Enjoy mmmmm!

  19. Right on! I'm proud to say that I haven't had microwave popcorn in years. I make a pot of popcorn almost every day! The kids and I gather around the kitch island and munch away. Glad I'm not the only one!

  20. Is there anything more wonderful than "real" popcorn popping on the stove! I'm 66 years old and still remember my grandmother making popcorn for us. My mother made it also, but I remember my grandmother's. Go figure!

  21. Mom had an old greasy pan, probably aluminum, that was the popcorn popper. Add oil and corn, but not too much, put on the lid and when it began popping, start shaking the pan back and forth on the burner. when done, dump in a paper bag, seal, and do the next batch. When enough batches were in the bag, add the melted butter and salt and shake vigorously. Sounds like the same process as yours.

  22. Mary, I make popcorn like this all the time for my 3 young kids. My mom used to make it like this for me and my grandpa used to make it every single night when he watched tv. It does always remind me of them and I love passing it along to my kids. I also make it when I have company or at work (preschool) when we ran out of popcorn bags I bring my canister of kernels. Everyone RAVES over how good it is...seriously..just a little butter and salt :) So delicious!

  23. At our house, we haven't seen a bag of microwave popcorn in years. We love the real good stuff, whether it is from the hot air popper or on the stove- we love it. We use all kinds of seasonings from time to time and my kids have become quite the popcorn connoisseurs truth be told. In fact, the kids in the neighborhood ask if they can come to our house and have real popcorn- always makes me laugh! My 11 year old makes a cajun seasoning blend that all his friends go nut over-he is giving it out as Christmas presents this year. Too fun!

  24. I just love y'all!! Thanks for all the beautiful comments & giving me some happy tears. I had a feeling this would resonate with many of us!

  25. Thank you Mary. I will never forget that day. It was amazing how something so simple could bring so much joy to people. Bless you for reminding us all that some of the simple things are the best. Love Joan in NJ

  26. Very timely post for me as I just burnt not 1 but 3 bags in the microwave. I always pop on the stove but my kids wanted to try the bag stuff- now instead of the gorgeous smell of freshly popped corn, the house now stinks of burnt paper and fake butter! ooops!

  27. Great post Mary. Popcorn is my favorite snack and I've hardly ever used the prepackaged microwave bags. It's just too easy to pop it on the stove and tastier...and healthier. I bought a whirly pop popper years ago, it practically lives on my stove top and worth it's weight in gold.

  28. I sent a link to this post to my youngest daughter. They are a young military family with two children struggling to just make ends meet. She had told me just yesterday about doing their monthly grocery shopping and buying a bag of popcorn to have in the evenings so close to Christmas. She reminded me how we had popped corn when she was small and how homesick she was.

  29. Brilliant post Mary! My condolences to your friend. I used to tell all the kids, sit.. eat.. let's talk... It always ended good and made them feel better regardless of the issue. Food fixes everything doesn't it?

    My mother was Italian and her parents born in Italy. They too believe food is an expression of love and more than a basic necessity. That's why I so enjoy living in the south. Same ways, different seasoning!

    Sorry I missed you...Hope you a had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  30. I love using coconut oil to pop my popcorn. It gives the yummiest taste and is very good for you!

  31. That brings back good memories. I even used to have a special pot for popping corn. Don't have a clue what happened to that pot. With 5 children, we popped corn all the time, as it was much cheaper than chips, etc for a crowd. I wonder now if my kids remember those days.

  32. Gee I havn't made real popcorn in years. In making microwave popcorn there are ingredints that can even pronance, and they are not good for you. At the top of may shopping list I'm adding popcorn
    Thanks for the memory

  33. I've never tried adding the butter with the kernels!

  34. I changed careers in my mid 40's and became a teacher. My first class was a special education class of little boys who had been so unruly the previous year that their teacher quit. While looking for rewards for good behavior, I came up with giving them a pop corn party on Friday if the class all had good behavior during the week. I had an old electric popper that I took to school and on Friday afternools we had pop corn and an educational video. It wasn't long before the whole school was amazed at how good my class was! I wore that popper out that year. And of all my years of teaching, my first is still my favorite. I still love pop corn and those little boys who are men now.

  35. this is most defiantly tasty. i just made it. a bit high in sat fat though. try this for lower fat (but higher sodium probably)

    2/3 c kernels (add after the single kernel pops)
    5 tbsp veg oil
    Flavacol Popcorn seasoning to taste, about 1/4- 1/2 tbsp (mix in the oil as it heats)

    1. Oh certainly there are many ways to make popcorn. This one is intended to be for buttered popcorn! Thanks for sharing your version with us.


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