I was watching “King Kong” (2005) with my wife when I was overwhelmed by the desire for some popcorn. I searched the pantry to find that our stock of microwave popcorn had been exhausted. Four months of unemployment brings a family to the point where the essentials are all you buy at the grocery store. I was gratetful for the prospect of watching a blockbuster, borrowed from a friend, but there was something missing.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, I was the victim of a conditioned response. Years of watching movies while munching on popcorn made me yearn for some of that tasty treat. There I was with no hope to satisfy my craving…until I remembered something.

One of the happiest memories of my childhood was the occasional weekend night when my parents would pull out the popcorn popper, fill it with oil and loose kernels, producing one of my favorite snacks. On top of the yellow dome that doubled as a serving bowl was a place where my father would put the butter or margarine. The heat from the exploding corn would melt the tasty golden condiment, causing it to rain cholesteral-laden goodness on the freshly created snack.

A vague recollection of buying a bag of loose corn, some time earlier, haunted my memory. Could it be that we still had the unopened bag? A quick search revealed that we did have the bag. I had no idea why we’d bought a bag of popcorn, when our household is completely comprised of people who have used the microwave equivalent since our earliest memories, but there it was.

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I KNEW we didn’t have the yellow-domed appliance of my youth. I scanned the directions. Oil, yes. Sauce pan with lid, yes. Stove, yes. I had all of the ingredients. Now, could I do what my ancestors had done? Could I make popcorn without any of the familar steps–unwrap bag, place in microwave, press “popcorn” button?

I added oil to the pan and turned on the stove. The flame sparked to life, flaring to warm the pan. The oil began to warm. Per the directions I added a single kernel to test when the oil was hot enough to pop the corn. “Maybe I ought to add a second in case this first is so old it won’t pop.” Not long thereafter the first, then second kernel exploded. I added a layer into the pan, surely a thin layer isn’t enough for my craving so I doubled it. Shaking the pan according to the instructions, I heard minor explosions followed by ricochets as the corn danced in the now-covered pan.

Soon I realized I’d added too much as the pan began to overflow. I quickly turned off the heat, placing my prize into one of the largest bowls in the kitchen. I tasted a piece, not bad, but it needed salt and butter. Now, to the microwave with a small bowl and a couple of tablespoons of margarine. Once melted, I drizzled the corn with what I’d hoped was enough. I added more salt, just to be sure.

I returned to the appreciative gaze of my wife. We began to eat what was some of the best popcorn I’ve ever eaten. As King Kong fought three t-rexes, I savored my accomplishment. Why would I ever buy microwave popcorn again? This is just as fast. It’s cheaper. It’s tastier.

Some progress is warranted. Sometimes, new technologies make things easier, faster, better in some way. I can’t imagine what improvement was wrought by the abandonment of the old way of corn popping.

There’s a lesson here. Cutting edge methods are quite often, but not always, better. Sometime, create a graphic using collage techniques resurrected from the attic of your mind in the places not accessed since kindergarten. Make a video of stills as if it’s created from film slides. Use a tube amp in lieu of a digital processor meant to mimic one. Sometimes, just sometimes it’s better to make popcorn the old-fashioned way.

Paul

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