I empty my single serving bag of microwave popcorn into the crisp white cafeware cereal bowl awaiting on my kitchen counter. And I flash back to a linoleum counter from 30 years earlier. 30 years ago, when popcorn making was itself an event.
In the early days, I remember the excitement of the silver Jiffy Pop container first placed on the heated stove. The explosive percussion of superheated kernals smashing tin, followed by the Openheimer bloom of aluminum foil, buttery puffed kernel fallout contained safely therein.
I remember later when we first brought home the popcorn popper. An orange domed UFO worthy of the proudest Martian explorer. It inspired years of the most rigorous disciplined scientific research that a gang of pre-adolescent kids could muster. Our mission, to pop the elusive perfect batch. Enough corn oil to fill up to the inner ring, there was no talk of canola oil nee rapeseed. Add enough kernels for the oil/kernel mix to extend to the outer ring. Those were merely the basics.
The alchemy began where Oster's or Kitchenade's or Hamilton Beach's instruction booklet left off. Heat oil then add kernels or andd oil and kernels together? When to unplug it? Switches or automatic shutoff, you ask? Hah! When do you flip the dome? What dome cover to use? (A newly cleaned Kool-Ade lid always seemed the best fit, but after 3-4 uses became slack and pointless.) And what of those slots at the top of the dome? Lay down chunks of butter to melt and drip through during popping? Maybe pre-melt then pour through the top? Or melt and mix in after the dome is flipped? Salt before butter, or butter before salt? Margarine, you say? For popping maybe but topping? Never.
Countless questions, and layers of mystery beneath them. In the time it has taken me to write these few words, I've already emptied my bowl save a few pieces of kernel shrapnel. No layers of mystery. No unpopped kernels of truth below for wonderful tooth-shattering crunches later on. No crowd around the dome digging in for seconds, thirds, and fourths as the mummy, the werewolf, or the creature from the black lagoon terrorizes us through the tv glass for the umpteenth Saturday afternoon. Just me, in my apartment, settling in for the my latest Netflick to stream over the wire and into my solitary laptop screen.
Single serving popcorn for a single serving movie screening.
Those old popcorn poppers were probably spectacular fire hazards. And who knows whether that superheated orange plastic will pay us off with gastrointestinal cancer of one form or another within the next 30 years. Somedays, our popping results were pretty dodgy. Others, they were downright inedible. The smell might linger around the house for the rest of the day, if not the rest of the week. But there is one thing that sadly seems certain. The best popcorn days are now behind us.