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Over There (in the UK)

April 13, 2004 at 1 PM

Popping Corn

I’ve lived without a microwave oven for most of the last seven years, and although I occasionally lament my inability to defrost frozen leftovers rapidly, I find, ultimately, it has affected my life very little. With practice, one can cook just about anything, in just about any fashion, without a microwave oven. Why, it’s almost as if people had been doing it for thousands of years.

One consequence of this is that when I want popcorn, I have to make it the way my mom made it when I was a kid: on the stove.

(I could buy a hot-air popper, but I think single-function appliances are a wee bit silly.)

Patricia Pearson’s article about “speed freak food” therefore had me nodding vigorously in agreement.

Stove-popped corn is quite amazingly good. It seems ludicrous to say things like that, but since about the mid-nineties, it seems like most people settled on Orville Redenbacher or no-name brand equivalents, and forgot that, hey, it was actually never that hard to pop corn to begin with.

Of course, some people enjoy “Real Butter Flavouring” and the quadruple helping of salt it includes, but I’ve discovered that actual butter, melted quickly over popped corn is, quite decidedly, impossible to beat. Even just a generous coating of oil in the pot and a generous sprinkling of salt will do the trick. (Grapeseed oil burns at a very high temperature, and so is ideal for this task.) Corn is good stuff — you’d be surprised how few enhancements it demands.

Pearson’s article isn’t just about popcorn though; it’s about the entire industry of “hurried” food that marketers push on consumers.

There is a conflation in the marketing, you have probably noticed, between the idea of efficiency and the myth of being on the go. Marketers don’t want to suggest that people are lazy, so instead, they characterize us as busy, busy, busy. Too hurried to eat properly: need bags. No time for utensils: need tubes.

Usually, products that extol time-saving virtues come at a price-premium. When I think of families scrimping to get by on meagre budgets, I often think: couldn’t they save some significant dollars by getting a 5 lb bag of regular old oatmeal instead of 10 tiny instant packets of the instant stuff? People always eat two portions at a time anyway. And instant oatmeal is such disappointing half-cooked mush anyway, if you follow the directions to the letter. Similarly, unpopped corn kernels are shockingly affordable, and if you’re willing to sacrifice five whole minutes to ensure they don’t burn, the results are immensely satisfying.

Regular, non-pre-cooked, non-pre-packaged, non-pre-fattified food has the additional advantage of being generally healthier. When we leave our nutritional decisions to product testers in taste laboratories, we lose control over our own bodies. With the current trend of obesity in North America, it can only be a good thing to promote real food. Why, I can see the marketing spin now: RealFood™. Cheap, Healthy and Good.

Comments

My single-use hot air popper rocks the house, thank you very much. Although I still don’t know if it can claim to beat the stove-top method.

— Brett Gaylor | Apr. 14, 2004 — 12 PM

Something very good to put on “home-made” popcorn besides (or even with) butter is the “cheese” package that comes in the kraftdinner boxes. yummy orangy cheesy popcorn.

— edemay | Apr. 14, 2004 — 4 PM

I like how you put “quotation marks” around “cheese”.

Added flavours like cheese or dill pickle or what have you are another matter, perhaps. I’m a bit of a flavour purist myself. I usually buy “plain” potato chips, and sometimes rice is delicious all on its own.

Having said that, I’ve looked around in the past for a place to buy powdered flavour for popcorn and have come up empty. I know these things exist, but where?

— Luke | Apr. 14, 2004 — 6 PM

There was a bizarre trend for awhile - seemed to come from down East - to serve popcorn with yeast powder on it. Some of my friends claimed to like it, but you’ll notice it never caught on at the cinema.

— Kate M. | Apr. 15, 2004 — 9 AM

I’m so guilty of the little Oatmeal packets, and always 2 at a time… Oh well. Busted.

— Dan | Apr. 15, 2004 — 4 PM

For the non-vegitarians: keep your bacon grease and use that to pot-pop your corn.

Once you become addicted to bacon-flavoured popcorn, you can use that hot-air popper for roasting your own coffee beans.

— Tedd | May. 12, 2004 — 10 AM

Previously: Garçon, What Do You Recommend?

Subsequently: SndRec32 Mks Btfl Music

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