Opinion: A look at popcorn through the years

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On the top shelf in the corner cabinet in the kitchen, in the back and out of sight is a piece of kitchen equipment that hasn’t been used in years. It’s a popcorn popper.

This particular model is electric. You poured in a certain amount of oil, added a precise measure of popcorn, plugged it in and waited. When the popped corn lifted the lid off the top, it was done.

An earlier model sat on the stove burner. It had a crank on the top and you had to turn it when the corn started popping to keep it from burning. The problem with that one was, steam leaked out from under the lid and burned your hand. We always wore an oven mitt when using that popper.

Some friends of ours had a wire basket popper that you used in a fireplace. I don’t know how practical that was, but I have to admit it was romantic. Lights down low, cozy spot in front of the fireplace while the blizzard of the century raged outside.

My dad made popcorn in a frying pan, jiggling the pan back and forth as the corn popped. He always filled two mixing bowls with popcorn. One he finished with melted butter and salt. The other got butter and sugar which created a sort of homemade Cracker Jack mixture.

One Christmas when we lived in a house with no electricity, Mom gave us needles and thread, and we made long strings of popcorn and cranberries to decorate the tree.

Popcorn got its start during the Great Depression. It was cheaper than candy, so an impoverished nation turned to popcorn for treats. Many farmers, faced with bankruptcy because of the Depression, found salvation growing popcorn.

During World War II when sugar was not available, popcorn consumption skyrocketed. After the war, gadget makers had a field day inventing new kinds of popcorn poppers. The one in my kitchen cabinet is an offspring of that era.

The microwave oven changed the way we looked at popcorn forever. Everybody in the business knew microwaves would pop corn. But it took years of refined engineering to get it to the point it didn’t catch on fire or scorch the corn in the process.

Today it’s just a short two-minute blast, dump it into a bowl and you’re ready to start the movie. Heck, it’s even pre-salted and buttered.

Kind of takes the romance out it though.


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