Memories of Low-Tech Popcorn


A Saturday night ritual

It dawned on me recently that my kids were missing a pivotal and common experience that was a regular part of my childhood: watching popcorn pop in a big pot on the stove.

Making popcorn was a huge part of the TV-watching Saturday nights in my home. This was, after all, the 1970’s and the anticipated lineup for the night included Mary Tyler-Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett. A critical part of the anticipated TV-watching binge was what was promised and expected: hot, buttered popcorn. No, I’m not talking about popcorn from a bag with “edible oil product” and dubious chemicals added for effect; I’m talking about real popcorn and real butter, made with a mother’s love (and more times than we’d like to admit, a mother’s burn).

Today’s kids have no idea about the process and ritual of getting the popcorn to pop, resulting in the perfect bowl of salty goodness. Sure — it’s easy to pull out a bag of microwave popcorn, pop it in, and nuke it into submission in mere seconds.

Convenient, right?

Yet there was something to be said about the preparation, the anticipation and the ultimate end result. Sometimes it took a few pots to perfect it; this after some burnt oil or butter ruined the vibe for a few stressful moments beforehand. Even so, finally getting it right was oh, so satisfying — and delicious.

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

Timing was everything

Making the perfect pot of popcorn on the stove was a skill that was hard-earned. It took a number of tries to get it right and even if the ability to do it was perfected, it was fleeting. That’s because the next weekend would bring another pot of burnt oil, butter turning black and momentary disappointment. Momentary because tenacity ruled when one was salivating at the thought of the perfect bowl of popcorn and like the Little Engine That Could, we would persevere until we got it right.

Like many things, it was all about timing. As well, the ingredients — the simpler, the better. Should we use butter or oil? Temperature: should it be on high, or just medium to start?

It seemed that the perfect pot of popcorn occurred with different variables each weekend, strangely. And yet, that was part of the fun. Sometimes, we’d get it done on the first try; others, we’d burn more than a few kernels, just in time to sit down before the boob tube.

Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash

Microwaves are faster but not necessarily better

And now, such quaint pursuits seem unnecessarily cumbersome. Those poor folks from previous times who had to wait more than 2.5 minutes — depending on microwave wattage — for their popcorn to be done. And, to add insult to injury, they had to clean the pot after as well; a task made worse when one had to contend with burnt kernels.

Yet popcorn on the stove has a distinct quality that no microwave or air-popper can replicate. Sure — it may seem a bit too greasy or buttery for those who are heavy-handed with the cooking ingredients, but that’s not the point. Making it this way is a labour of love, a testament to tenacity and a showcase of talent — sometimes. Best of all, popcorn cooked on top of the stove reminds so many of us from another era how we made memories through the most simple of acts.

Writer, Media Commentator, Creator & Host: The Parenting Then & Now Podcast, Writing:, blog:

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