I have never been the biggest fan of popcorn. I have never disliked it, but it’s not one of those things I usually crave, or give much thought to. Movie-going has never been a popcorn-mandatory thing for me, and those big metal tins of popcorn my mother would produce for us at holidays were… not bad. But also not something I particularly looked forward to.
Learning to pop corn on the stove top shifted things a little for me. I now had control of my popcorn. If I wanted to pop it up extra spicy, spicy enough to make bring tears to my neighbors’ eyes, well, then, I could do that. If I wanted to use sunflower oil or coconut oil, I had a choice. But best of all, my little video game completionist self rejoiced in almost no unpopped kernels.
I’d made comments about how much better stove popped was over microwave a few years ago (asshole), and got a stinging verbal rebuke from friends about being elitist for dismissing microwave popcorn, saying that we can’t all trade convenience for taste that way, that it was a luxury to have the time to sit at stove and pop popcorn.
But microwave popcorn is not convenient. You have to babysit it through the whole popping process (either method takes about the same amount of time), or end up with scorched popcorn. That still hasn’t all popped. And maybe you even accidentally lit the microwave on fire because you scorched it so badly (oops). And yes, while there’s a taste factor involved (the major brands taste like plastic to me; I don’t know what they put in the “butter,” but it clings to the back of my throat like melted cellophane) the fact that I was too broke to afford a microwave was a bigger player in my decision to learn to make it on the range.
A few nights ago, my boyfriend purchased a box of microwave popcorn by accident when he ran to the store. “Popcorn kernels” was the item on the list. It didn’t occur to me that it could be interpreted as anything other than a jar of just the kernels, or perhaps that maybe popcorn just looks like popcorn sitting on the shelf. Foolish human, I. No one has the same mental image for things. So, a box of three microwavable bags came home. Some plain stuff, just palm oil, popcorn kernels, and salt. We both tend to keep stuff simple.
I dithered and whined. I may have even grumped a little (dear self: you’re a jerk). But mostly I was anxious about using a microwave to pop them. To the point where I cut open a bag, put a little oil in a pan, and used my tried and true stove top method: drop in 5-6 kernels, turn up the heat, let ’em pop, cool the pot for a 30 count to ensure even heat, then pour the rest in, fire the burner back up, and you have popcorn about a minute and a half later. These? They just burned. Scorched to the bottom of the pan.
I tried the next bag in a microwave. I hunched close the entire time, worried after an explosion… or at least a fire. Or smoke billowing from the microwave and the fire alarm going off at 2am. None of these happened. But a good chunk of the bag didn’t pop. ARGH!
“The things people will put up with for convenience,” smirked my boyfriend.
As we ate our bowlful, we speculated about what happened. Did the palm oil have an effect? Lower quality kernels? We both groused about the unpopped bits, and I mentioned the past rebuke.
“Well, cooking popcorn on the stove takes more skill. Microwave popcorn I know I can do, but I wouldn’t know where to start with the other,” he said.
“I could show you, though. It’s so dead simple.” I had not quite recovered from my bout of nuker-anxiety.
“That’s not the point,” he said. “It’s simple for you because you know your way around a kitchen.”
I admitted that you had to know enough to use a high-heat oil, an not something like butter to pop your corn.
“But it’s not like using a microwave takes no skill at all…” and I admitted to lighting my mother’s microwave on fire with an ill-fated bag of Pop Secret. I didn’t mention the exploding microwave brownie kit. The reheated spaghetti sauce hardened into a crispy crust. The great butter fireworks of 2015. The Peep fire of 2008. And then all the times I heated up food and forgot about it as I wandered off to do anything else. I have a shit time with microwaves.
It takes skill to use either method. One is not zero effort and the other effort-full. We just lean on the more familiar set of skills. Using a microwave to good effect is a skill. It’s not one I’ve developed, since I’ve not always had one, and I’ve made disasters of more than one in my day. Nothing hobbles the gaining of a skill faster than fear.
I’m handy with from-scratch stuff. The chemistry of food makes sense to me. I like how it forces me to be present, and I like the money I can save by doing away with “convenience” foods (it’s a lot of money saved!). It’s a hobby as well as a means to feed myself. It’s also not a skill everyone possesses.
I am going to stove pop my popcorn because I am broke and cheap. I can make it fancy without spending extra money. I am going to do this because it’s what I know the best, and it’s what I feel at ease with. I won’t judge you for your microwave popcorn. But if you value your microwave, please don’t ask me to make it for you.