Saturday, September 12, 2009

Brain Food

Photo from

I realized recently that many of the times in my life which I recall with much fondness I also associate with food. Without a doubt, the food I first fell in love with was my mom's pan-popped popcorn.

That heavenly, buttery smell of pan-popped corn brings a wealth of wonderful memories washing over me. Popcorn brings back fond recollections of rainy days. Back in Iowa a good rainstorm could outlast our ability to sit still in the house long enough for it to subside. Mom remedied this with popcorn. She would send us out to our front porch with the largest bowl she could find, filled to the brim with warm, salty popcorn. We would sit there on the porch for hours playing games of make-believe and loving every aspect of the rain, letting it fill our senses as we rationed the popcorn for as long as possible. Often we would take the bowl into our old, rundown garage, filled with forgotten boxes and a musty old couch. There we'd sit and munch and formulate plans of how to get Miss Mary Ann to see us through her Magic Mirror on Romper Room as well as choreographing our own song and dance numbers so that eventually we could become real Mouseketeers.

Popcorn was the only thing I enjoyed about the annual showing of Deafula at the local Deaf Club each October, a horror movie done completely in American Sign Language. My parents brought all of us kids along each year, regardless of the fact that Deafula spooked me to the core. I would sit completely beneath a blanket to escape the scenes on the large screen set up for this event, eating my fill of popcorn while occasionally peeking out as the drama unfolded.

After we moved to California, popcorn was a staple in every apartment we called home. It reminds me of evenings spent in front of the television, the whole family enjoying episodes of everything from The A-Team & MacGyver to The Wonder Years & Highway to Heaven while enjoying bowls full of popcorn. If we were lucky, they were accompanied by plastic Tupperware cups filled with red Kool-aid. As we kids grew older, popcorn was a treat we shared with our friends as we would all gather around the television, watching music videos on MTV with my parents' Closed Captioning box turned on so we could learn the words to all of our favorite songs.

When I left home to be on my own I was not well educated in culinary matters - but I knew how to make popcorn. While my roommates taught me about lipstick and Levis and lunch from La Dolce Vita, I taught them to appreciate the flavorful pan-popped corn rather than the air-popped variety they were accustomed to. And whenever I had a twinge of homesickness I would remedy it by calling my brother, Chip. We would laugh and cry together through the phone as I munched on a bowl of popcorn, speaking of the directions our lives were taking us and the time we would see each other again.

Now that I have a family of my own the popcorn tradition continues. The air-poppers we received as wedding gifts (and I seem to recall a few) slowly made their way to other, more useful places as I refined my family's taste buds with the buttery, pan-popped goodness I have grown up with and perfected. Popcorn still finds itself in the heart of family time as we gather around the table to play games and talk about things we have learned.

So, although I often declare other foods as favorites, I think that popcorn will always be my own personal Pensieve.


rorymckm said...

what is the buttery, pan-popped popcorn of which you speak....??? how does one make it? we never had popcorn growing up and now i'm feeling like it's one more item on a long list of things i missed out on in my younger years..... :(

simplysarah said...

Yum. Even though my family used an air popper, my mom knew all about butter and salt and applied them both generously. Her popcorn is also tied to many of my favorite childhood memories...summers in the pool, family home evening movies, 4th of July fireworks...unlike you, however, I've never figured out how to replicate the delicious result.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane! :)

Teachinfourth said...

You've taken me back to another time and place.


Gina said...

There is nothing I want more now than this popcorn. I'll loan you my daughter (as though you need anymore kiddos). You bring me popcorn!

Deb said...

Pan-popped popcorn is also my favorite! I love shaking it on the stove. I only use oil and salt. It is the best. Was a shocker when I meet my husband that he didn't like it...but I have found memories of it with my family growing up. One of those comfort foods for me!

Infertility Goddess said...

this post brought back so many memories. I can still see my dad stirring the popcorn in the big metalic pot. I loved the sound and the smell. I need popcorn.

Jen W.

Sybrina said...

Mmmmm...Thanks! I think I will try this tip -right now. What could be more perfect for a rainy afternoon? Will you post how you make your popcorn? I could google it, but I have this feeling your recipe would be better!

Anaise said...

Yes, homemade pan-popped popcorn is a part of nearly all important moments in our family . . . in fact, I'm having a hard time thinking of anything we celebrate without popcorn!

Hmmm, if our paths ever cross in real life, now we know what to eat in celebration! :)

Angela said...

Oh yes it sounds so good my Dad used to cook it this way all the time it is way good stuff. I well have to try it again

Gerb said...

Rory- Have you tried it yet? BTW, I found a journal entry from 20 years ago that is all about you. I will have to send you a typed-up version. It was fun to read.

Sarah- You're welcome! Isn't it amazing how food can bring memories of years past just flooding back?

T5- I do the same for myself every time I enjoy a bowl of the good stuff. BTW, popcorn also reminds me of fun nights in a friend's basement theater, watching so-horrible-they're-kinda-funny movies like that zombie one. And somehow, peanut M&Ms are all tied into it as well. Thanks. =0)

Gina- Well, now, that would make for a pretty simple shower gift, wouldn't it? Maybe I can pop you up a pan when I'm there?

Deb- TOTALLY a comfort food. One of the best.

Jen- It'll go great with those thunderstorms we've been waiting for!

Sybrina- Have you tried it yet? I'm jealous that you're living in a land of rain!

Anaise- What do you mean, IF? I predict it WILL happen. And this time around it will not be in a church building at 6:00 a.m!

Angela- Try it, you won't regret it. I miss you!

novidiac said...

pan popped = awesome
air poppped = o.k.
microwaved = blech!

we used to make so much and pour it into double lined paper grocery bags to take to the circus or the drive-in... a better smell there never was!

Gerb said...

novidiac- My husband's family has fond memories of oil-stained paper sacks full of popcorn on camping trips and Sunday game nights, too. Gotta love the stuff! And I must say that to me air-popped is the worst. I don't mind microwaved, especially if it's kettle corn. =0)