When I was growing up, there was never much "junk food' to be found in the kitchen. Ice cream was a once-a-week treat that we walked to the neighborhood market for or got from the Mr. Softee truck. (I can still hear the truck's musical jingle in my head!)
Soda was just as rare, but my Mom did indulge in Kool-Aid, which she mixed in a plastic Mr. Kool-Aid pitcher. If we neighborhood kids were playing at the playground, there was a water fountain near the baseball diamond.
My Dad loved popcorn. In those days, microwave ovens didn't exist and popcorn was considered too lowly a snack to be bagged and sold like potato chips.
We had what was probably a state-of the-art (for then) electric popcorn maker. The bowl part of the machine sat atop a heating element and was covered by a glass cover. It came with a little metal shot glass-like cup that was etched with lines to show how much oil and how much popcorn to put in the popper.
Making popcorn was a production in our house -- not so much because it was difficult, but because of the ritual.
"I think I'll make some popcorn," Dad would announce and I would ask, "Can I help?" We would go into the kitchen and he would pull the popper from it's designated spot in the cupboard. First he'd plug the cord into the popper and then the opposite end into the outlet. Next, he would dig out the oil and the bag or tin of popcorn and carefully measure the right amount of both and pour it into the popper -- a task I was allowed to do when I got older.
Once he put the cover on the popper, we would stare at the churning mix (me from a lofty perch atop a kitchen stool), trying to pick out which kernel would be the first to pop.
After pouring the popped corn into a bowl, he would top it with butter and salt and we would share it with Mom.
So it's only natural my favorite snack is popcorn. While there is always a box of microwave popcorn in the cupboard, I usually make it the way Dad did, but using a pan on the stovetop instead of a popper. One year, my husband planted a row of popcorn in the garden -- it was amazing to watch it grow, harvest it and then eat it all winter long.
One of my favorite popcorn recipes (yes, there really are some!) comes from a woman I met years ago at the lake where we vacation. Her recipe for Kettle Corn is easy and provides a nice blend of sweet and salty. Perfect for a night around a campfire or watching a movie with the family.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add 3 kernels of corn to the oil in the pan at the very start. Only after those kernels pop should the rest of the corn and other ingredients be added to the hot oil. Add popcorn and sugar giving it a quick stir and then cover with lid. Once popcorn starts popping, pick it up and give it a quick shake every few seconds until popping slows down, between 3 to 4 minutes. Remove immediately from heat and pour into a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately. (Do not remove the pot from heat without transferring the popcorn to a bowl. If you don't, the popcorn it will caramelize and perhaps burn.
Another favorite, for a yummy caramel corn, comes from my favorite Southern Belle on TV. Again, it's easy to make and so-o-o-o good!
Grandma Paul's Caramel Corn
1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 quarts popped corn
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Over medium heat, combine first 4 ingredients and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda. Stir well. Pour over popped corn. Stir to coat well. Bake in large roaster or pan for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on waxed paper to dry.
And from a former "Iron Chef" comes this recipe for pizza-flavored popcorn.
Pizza Popcorn Recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 cups popped popcorn (from 1/2 cup unpopped kernels)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
In a large bowl, toss oil and popcorn. Add remaining ingredients and toss again.
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.