St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Popcorn Nostalgia

Back in the 50’s on a cold winter night, before TV, we four boys often enjoyed a bowl of popcorn after chores were done; the cows milked, the calves fed, and the night’s hay thrown down for the night.

We did our chores and came in to do our homework.  By the time we finished, at 8:30, Dad came in from the barn, and usually sat down to the table to do a little reading and have a snack.

“Boys,” he commanded about once a week, “go get a few ears of popcorn, and lets have some.”  

We raised Japanese hull-less, the white popcorn you see in the stores nowadays.  We planted, hoed and harvested two long rows in the garden, sacking the stubby small ears in onion sacks, hanging them high on a nail in the cold pantry to dry.  By January, they were ready to use (they shelled off the cob easily).

Shelling popcorn with the pointed kernels needed a tough hand—no soft handed girls could do it without bleeding (or so we thought). 
The chaff had to be blown out and the kernels turned over to Dad.
Dad insisted only he could pop corn “the right way.”  He took the deep big steel frying pan that had a tightly fitted lid.  He covered the bottom tightly with one layer of kernels, and turned the big burner (by then we had an electric stove), on high.  He slid the pan back and forth on the burner vigorously enough to roll the kernels on all sides and heat them evenly.  They began to swell, turning a little brown, and then one popped, often jumping out of the pan onto the floor. 

Quickly turned the burner to medium, and without stopping the shaking pan, clapped on the cover and shook even more vigorously as the scattered pops became a symphony and started to push the cover off the pan.  Waiting just long enough to pop the very kernel, he smoothly lifted it off the burner and raising the cover dumped it into the waiting metal dishpan.  Done right, every kernel had popped and none had a burned spot.

Quickly, before the heat was lost, a new batch was underway, the burner back on high and the kernels browning.  Keeping the cover off was probably not needed, but watching the kernels roll, swell, brown and then pop made the whole thing more exciting.

Three batches filled the dishpan, and then a big hunk of butter cut off the full pound of  Cushing Creamery butter (we didn’t make our own butter anymore) melted in the same frying pan and slathered over the kettle, almost all of it poured out, but a thick layer left.  Lots of salt and then we took our bowls off to listen to the radio.

Dad put his popcorn right in the frying pan so it had extra butter.  There was enough for a couple of bowls of popcorn and then it was bedtime after our favorite radio show finished at 9. 

Of course, all that butter and salt did have an effect on Dad and Mom’s health.  They both died from heart failure, Dad at 89 and Mom at 91.  I doubt they would have given up the popcorn for another year!

That’s all for tonight.  My air-popper, Land-O-Lakes butter and the Japanese Hull-less popcorn from the store are calling me. Maybe tonight I will use the frying pan…