Yesterday I realized that the days had become a bit cooler and shorter in Nebraska. This put me in the mood for popcorn. I got out the terra cotta microwave popper, some vegetable oil, and the jar of kernels I bought from the farmers’ market. Within a few minutes, the kitchen was filled with the delightful aroma of popping corn.
In the early 1960s, dad popped corn in a unique way. He placed the oil and kernels on the bottom of one of mom’s Revereware skillets and covered it. He turned one of the electric range elements up to high, placed the skillet on it and waited. When the first few pops were heard, dad slid the pan vigorously, back and forth, across the glowing red element.
When the popping ended, dad quickly dumped the skillet’s contents into a large bowl, then repeated the process once or twice. He finished preparing the popcorn by drizzling melted oleomargarine onto the popped kernels and sprinkling on some salt.
In my mind, I can still hear the metallic scraping and bumping of skillet upon the electric range element. I can still see dad smiling as he shook the pan. Sometimes sparks appeared between the element and the skillet. Even after he purchased a conventional electric popper, dad occasionally used the skillet method. He clearly preferred it. The popcorn tasted better when popped in a vigorously shaken skillet.
Mom never did prepare popcorn. She said that popping corn was manly cooking, like grilling meat on the charcoal grill on the patio in the summertime. If mom wanted to prepare popcorn balls, she waited for dad to pop the corn in the skillet, then she did the rest.
Dad kept his supply of popcorn kernels inside an old large mayonaise jar along with a small orange plastic juice tumbler for measuring the corn for popping. It was a tidy way to keep everything together.
Once in awhile, dad and mom wanted to see a movie at the “Dude Ranch” drive-in theater. Dad popped extra batches of corn and dumped them into a brown paper grocery sack. He drizzled on the melted margarine and salt, then rolled the top closed and shook the bag for a few moments to blend everything together. (I thought it was peculiar that dad liked to shake popcorn.) The big bag of popcorn and a thermos filled with a soft drink went into the car with us to the drive-in.
In the fall and winter, dad prepared popcorn at least once per week. He timed the popping session so that it would end just before his favorite teevee show was scheduled to air. The family then sat in the living room with our bowls of popcorn and paper napkins to accompany the televised program.
Years later, dad moved to an assisted living apartment. Frequently, on the days I visited him, he requested small bags of freshly popped corn so we could munch while chatting about family gossip. Dad just seemed happier when eating popcorn.
A few months after dad’s funeral, while going through his kitchen things, I came across the old mayonaise jar. There was enough corn for a couple of batches, and the little orange tumbler was still inside the jar.