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kettle cooked popcorn

(post, Elizabeth Stark)

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I took this idyllic fall portrait at the Storm King Sculpture Center. This doesn't really have anything to do with popcorn, except that popcorn is a delicious treat after a brisk fall walk. Now fall is winding down, and Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching. You may also be watching some football. All of these are excellent reasons to enjoy popcorn.

Please don't take me to be one of those people who thinks popcorn was served at the first Thanksgiving. We all know the type. As this letter to the editor from the New York Times in November of 1997 persuasively argues, there is very little evidence that popcorn was really consumed by Americans, native or otherwise, until the mid-19th century.

No, the correlation with Thanksgiving is that it's cold out, you're having people over, and football is on TV--this is the time for you to make popcorn. The kitchen appliance industry has been hard at work convincing us that making popcorn at home is too difficult and we need either a popcorn popper or a microwave to mediate the process. The truth is you can't get that fresh home-cooked flavor from a microwave and a popcorn popper is just too ridiculously specific to be taking up valuable kitchen cabinet space. This recipe is classic butter and salt with a good amount of pepper, but try your own variations and please tell me how they turn out. I think it's pretty clear that I finally need to figure out how to make caramel.

Kettle Cooked Popcorn (adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)

1/2 cup corn kernels
2 tablespoons olive, or whatever neutral, oil
2-4 tablespoons butter
salt to taste
fresh pepper to taste

Heat the oil, and three kernels of corn, in a large pot with a long handle over medium heat with the lid on. When the three kernels have popped, add the rest of the kernels, cover, and shake the pot. You may want to turn up the heat a bit. Keep shaking the pot as the corn pops, for the whole time it's cooking--this is the part where you start wondering if you shouldn't just use the microwave. Meanwhile, gently melt the butter, and get a large bowl, salt, and pepper ready. When the corns' popping has slowed considerably, after 5-10 minutes depending on the amount, uncover the pot and quickly dump the popped corn into the bowl. Keep on the lookout for exploding kernels. Drizzle the butter onto the popcorn and toss with the salt and a liberal dose of peeper. Serve immediately, if not sooner--homemade popcorn just doesn't keep.