Food Column

Popcorn goodies at Goods for Cooks. Photo by Lynae Sowinski


I am a popcorn junkie. I love it, I crave it, I fantasize about it. Sometimes, after a long, hard day, when I am too tired even to slice a vegetable, make a sandwich, or, indeed, lift a fork, I will have a big (big!) bowl of popcorn for dinner. Sprinkled with salt, or jalapeño seasoning, or maybe a little sugar, or, what the heck, all three—it is comfort food extraordinaire.

Which is odd because really, when you get right down to it, popcorn is mostly air. Still, it is the crunchiest, saltiest, corniest air you will ever eat. If anyone in the house is having popcorn, I am too, seduced by that buttery hot aroma that evokes movies, carnivals, and rainy afternoons at home.

I read an article on the other day, extolling the joys of what the author Gilad Edelman calls “stovetop popcorn.” “When I was a kid,” he writes, “there were two kinds of popcorn, as far as I knew: movie theater and microwave.” He’s found that “serving popcorn made on the stove” helps him “impress guests without doing anything actually impressive.” He includes a detailed recipe.

Who knew there was a popcorn generation gap?

When I was a kid there was only popcorn made on a stove. My dad made it, usually, in a large copper-bottomed skillet. He’d heat some oil, put in a few test kernels, wait ’til they popped to tell him the oil was hot enough, then add more kernels, put the lid on and shake it back and forth on the burner until the popping reached a frenzy, then leveled off and stopped. Who needs a recipe for that?

These days the big skillet is long gone, replaced with the fabulous Whirley Pop popcorn popper. It sits on the stove and you crank a handle that keeps the kernels moving for even popping. Ours is aged and battered but it still works like new; it is nearly indestructible, comes with a 25-year warranty, and it’s made right here in Indiana.

When you think about it, popcorn could practically be our state food. We are the home of Orville Redenbacher (Valparaiso) and Jiffy Pop (LaPorte) and a town actually called Popcorn. We produce fat yellow popcorn, tiny white hull-less popcorn, and rainbow-hued popcorn—red, blue, and black kernels that pop up white (surprise!).

I like popcorn almost any way I can get it (except from a microwave, ironically). I love to go to the Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning and follow my nose to the kettle corn—freshly popped and warm, with its delicate dance of salt and sugar. I am addicted to the Chicago Mix at Inga’s Popcorn, at the corner of Atwater and Swain—half cheddar and half caramel, buttery, savory, and sticky sweet. And I never pass through the Indy Airport without stopping at Just Pop In! for some barbeque popcorn salt and its lovely spicy zing.

I am not a purist, either. Once we bought a huge 50-pound bucket of popcorn at Sam’s Club thinking that with only two of us at home we’d have it forever. It didn’t even last a year.

To read more by Christine Barbour, visit her blog, My Plate or Yours?