“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” barked Larry in an accusatory tone second to none.
With a dirty Farberware pot in one hand, a soapy sponge in the other, and a sink before me, what the hell did it look like I was doing?
The dressing-down continued: “You don’t wash that pot, you idiot! That’s for popcorn only. It’s seasoned. Wash the lid when you’re done, wipe the pot with a paper towel, and put it back on the stove.”
Dad was right. On the right back burner it sat, slowly turning from a bright sunburst yellow to barely noticeable mustard gray after years of dedicated popping excellence. Never one to dirty a bowl unless absolutely necessary, Larry would parcel the steaming hot contents of the kettle into three brown grocery store bags, salt, shake, and serve. Before Orville Redenbacher, our seed and oil of choice was TV Time Popcorn. The plastic-pouch package came neatly divided: 25 percent goldenly, semi-solidified butterfat and 75 percent seed and salt.
Coconut oil as a popping agent first hit my radar in the early ’80s when managing Landmark’s Parkway Theatre in Chicago. The iridescent orange concoction was delivered in five-gallon drums complete with a dangerously suspect electric thermal thaw stick for those cold wintery overnights when the oil would solidify. The taste forever ruined popcorn for me.
It’s been ages since my stove saw a popcorn pot. The microwave wound up in the dumpster where it belongs, so even if a craving for spongy styrofoam chips sprinkled with rock salt arose, I have no way of nuking a bag. (Next to rotting human flesh, is there a more repugnant smell than burnt microwave popcorn?) The majority of the popcorn I consume nowadays is popped in-theater — Landmark’s Ken Cinema does it best — and since the movies are generally on the cuff, there’s never a problem in upping a chain’s per capita by throwing a ten-spot their way in exchange for a sack-and-soda.
This is about to change. An oracle appeared while strolling the back aisles of the Smart & Final Extra! in Escondido. Resting side-by-side on a knee-high shelf sat popcorn nirvana: Coco-Oil sticks and Flavacol seasoning, the perfect ingredients for movie theater popcorn in your home. One second after the oil hit the pot, the kitchen smelled like the Parkway lobby.
Here is my recipe for perfect popcorn:
Place three tablespoons of Coco-Oil oil and three popcorn seeds in a pot on medium high heat. The second the first kernel pops, add half a cup of Orville, one tablespoon of Flavacol, and cover. Reduce heat and with both hands firmly holding the lid in place, shake the pot like a Polaroid picture. Continue cookin’ and shakin’ until ten seconds separate each pop. One thing has changed. With paper sacks hard to find, it’s best to serve it in a bowl. Take it from one who found out the hard way: hot popcorn and cold plastic bags don’t mix.