Minnesota Cooking: Popcorn - Using the Popcorn Poppers
Popcorn - Our History
It's true. I am no stranger to popped corn. As a child, my father or mother would heat up oil in a medium sauce pan over a hot flame on our gas stove with a couple kernels floating around and, when the oil was hot, and those few kernels popped, he or she would add a quarter cup of kernels to their pan.
The results were almost heady. First you'd smell the corn as it heated up. Then, as the pop corn started to pop, they would shake the pan slightly. The pop corn would continue popping, and they'd shake that pan ever so slightly once in a while.
Apparently it was to keep the finished popped corn from burning in the bottom of the pan. The smell of burning popcorn is a disheartening smell. It means that you failed.
Melting the Butter
Back in the old days, when you wanted melted butter, you dumped your popped corn out of the pan into a waiting bowl, and quickly placed your stick of butter in the bottom of the same pan and waited for your butter to melt.
Then, you'd pour that melted butter over your popped corn, add a little salt and you were then ready to munch. If all went well, you'd be sitting eating popcorn and, perhaps watching television.
We have some packages of microwave popcorn. This popcorn is in a specially designed package that is placed into the microwave a certain direction [says on the package - This Side Down] Then, the package is heated on high for approximately 2 minutes. As you pop this corn, you must listen to the popping. As the pop corn popping noises slow down, you must be aware and not let it cook after it stops. [Continuing to cook microwave popcorn after the popping noise stops is a guaranteed method of failure and burnt popcorn]
Colors and Textures
We have bags of hull less popcorn and we have jars of hull pop corn. We have white pop corn and yellow pop corn and purple pop corn.
The color of the kernel is almost immaterial. It simply sells pop corn. The actual puffed up corn is white, no matter what color the kernel starts out as being.
Hull pop corn means that you will have to pick pieces of hull from your teeth and tongue as you eat it. Hull is the outside husk of the pop corn and is round and will stick to you. It's almost unpleasant to get hulls stuck in the back of your throat because you can feel them, but it takes a lot of effort to remove them. Their cup shape adheres to your skin and they stick.
Hull less is a little better. There may be some hulls, but certainly not as many as the previous.
Half Way Between
We have a pan that we used to use in the house, but now it goes out to the fish house more often. The pan was marketed by the name Whirlly Popper because there is a crank on the top and the crank is connected to a stick that bats the kernels around in the bottom of the pan, keeping them from burning as easily. It eliminates shaking your pan since the kernels are turned around with the stick.
It served many bowls of pop corn in its lifetime.
As I recall, we had an air popper some thirty years ago. Those worked with just hot air. You plugged it in, poured the popcorn in the top, placed the special scoop cover over the top, placed your bowl in front of it, under the spigot and waited for your bowl to fill up.
It blew hot air on your kernels and then, the popcorn would find its way up the chute and into your bowl. It was surreal. You never had burnt pop corn because it never stayed in there long enough to burn.
We have seen some larger, fancier poppers that our friends have. The bigger poppers are usually found in a recreational room or bar room. They are usually square, with a double bowl. One bowl, above with strainer holes for butter to drip through and a burner bowl below with the popcorn as it pops. It's a fun popper as the lower bowl is short and only holds so much pop corn before it cascades over the edge like a pop corn waterfall.
The butter-melt bowl drips fresh, melted butter on the newly popped corn just as it is leaving the bottom bowl. It's very engineered and coordinated. The popcorn collects in the bottom. Salt is shaken on the new pop corn and a scoop is there, next to the side door for scooping hot, fresh pop corn into a waiting, smaller bowl.
You would think that it would be a simple matter of putting oil in, putting your corn in, turning the popper on and minutes later, you'd be eating pop corn.
It's not that simple.
First, you need to put at least three tablespoons of some oil, vegetable or canola, into your popper. Second, you need to place three kernels in that oil, and then, plug the popper in. Once those kernels pop, it is then time for your quarter cup of kernels, which you then add to the oil and, then, minutes later, place your melted butter and salt on the top and go sit down to eat.
The Stir Crazy has a specially designed cover that allows you to place your pats of butter in the top of the popper and it melts the butter over your pop corn. I have never used this method. I prefer to heat mine in the microwave. Why? Simply because, the steam from the oil heating up is probably enough to melt your butter before you put the pop corn in the popper. It's probably an easy way to get burned by dripping butter. I don't recommend that method.
I use the microwave to melt a half stick of popcorn in a glass measuring cup. It only takes about 30 seconds to melt the butter. Any longer than that, and the butter starts to boil and pop up all over the inside of the microwave. [And we both know that we aren't interested in cleaning the microwave at this time, are we?] Careful: The glass heats up and is hot to the touch. Make sure you use a mitt to lift it out of the microwave.
After the butter has melted, it is poured slowly in a circle around the bowl of popped popcorn.
The butter will catch on the pop corn and will drip down through the rest. The salt is then shaken across the top layer and then, shaken down through the layers.