Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Carol Perkins: On the history of popcorn popping

Carol packs 5,000 years of popcorn history into this column, from the first Indian (woman, she thinks) devising a a plan to contain the exploding kernels, from over open flames, to stove top cooking, to cooking from bagged and glass containers, to air poppers, to the ultimate and outrageously priced, movie popcorn, and finally, to the ultimate convenience, a nightly ritual at her house, microwaved popcorn: 'Popcorn is an inexpensive snack and easy to prepare. At our house it is a nightly ritual for Guy to pop his corn around nine o'clock and for Fluffy to bark at him until he gets a snack, too,' she wries.
The next earlier Carol Perkins column: Carol Perkins: I have joined the world of physical fitness Posted January 19, 2013.

By Carol Perkins

January is National Popcorn Month. Who knew? I immediately thought of my own connection to popcorn. How far back do popcorn and I go? Certainly not to the Native American Indians who some 5,000 years ago (according to my research) discovered that a particular type of corn would pop, especially over an open fire once thrown in the middle of it. After tiring of chasing the popcorn someone (likely a woman) came up with a plan to contain the corn for popping by placing it in a pan of some sort.

Love of delicacy goes back to toddlerhood

My love for popcorn goes back to when I was a toddler, according to my parents. I was no more than a few years old when my uncle and aunt were married in a lovely ceremony in a local church. This would have been in the late forties. I was standing between my mom and dad and just as the bride was ready to march down the aisle, I said loudly enough to be heard, "I want some popcorn." I was accustomed to going to the movies on Saturday night.

As for my lifetime of being a consumer of popcorn, I can remember many different methods of popping either used by my family or families of those I knew.

Popping in a covered iron skillet

Not all corn is for popping. There is a special type and removing it from the cob was a labor of love. The kernels were then placed into an iron pot with a lid and put on top of the wood stove (or cook stove) and the kernels would begin to hit the top of the pan like bullets. When no sound came from the pot, the corn was ready.

This popcorn was usually tough and often scorched. However, it filled the room with lingering aroma and our stomachs with satisfaction. The smell of popcorn is hypnotic.

Fireplace popper was popular

A fireplace popper was also popular. The corn went into the flat container with a flat top all of which was filled with holes. It was shaken over the open fire. I bought one when we had a fireplace in our first home, but this process was certainly not easy or rewarding. If a person had no other method of popping corn, this was better than nothing, but instead of using my popper, I hung it on a hinge for decoration.

Later, popcorn started coming bags

Later popcorn was available in bags, which usually contained a pack of cheddar cheese powder. Many times after supper, I would cover the bottom of a pan with either lard or butter, let it get bubbling hot, and then quickly pour in enough popcorn to fill the bottom. As quickly as the corn hit the grease, I covered the pot to keep the grains inside, shook the pan rigorously, and watched the top lift from the overflow.

Then, in jars in its own oil

Not long after popcorn emerged on shelves by the pound, it appeared in jars packed in its own oil. That was a smart move because this was time saving; however, my experience was that the popcorn tasted too much like the oil, so I went back to the package of corn and my hot butter method. This continued long after my children were born and until the air poppers came along.

Then came that great invention, the hot air popcorn popper

What an invention. Who didn't have a hot air popcorn popper? The problem I found was that the hot air popcorn had no flavor. Eating popcorn popped in this machine was like eating a rice cake (cereal). Salt wouldn't stick to the popcorn, so the only way to make it tasty was to pour melted butter over it, cloggy up arteries and veins. Remember the gook at the bottom of a popcorn bowl?

Finally, the microwave popcorn

Then along came microwave popcorn. Kids could even pop their own! Out of the bag, into a bowl, and into the garbage. Guy eats his popcorn straight out of the bag just like at the movies.

Speaking of the movies, no popcorn tastes as good to me as that from a movie theater. Even though price is outrageous and can set a family of four back a day's pay, the lines are long and the customers carry off buckets smothered and covered in butter. That's just part of the experience.

Inexpensive snack, and easy to prepare

Popcorn is an inexpensive snack and easy to prepare. At our house it is a nightly ritual for Guy to pop his corn around nine o'clock and for Fluffy to bark at him until he gets a snack, too. Fluffy loves popcorn but it doesn't love him!

January is National Popcorn Month, but for most of us it is celebrated year 'round. Let's get to popping!

This story was posted on 2014-01-26 05:15:06
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.

To sponsor news and features on ColumbiaMagazine, please use our contact form.


Quick Links to Popular Features content is available as an RSS/XML feed for your RSS reader or other news aggregator.
Use the following link:

Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by D'Zine, Ltd., PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270-250-2730 Fax: 270-751-0401

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia! Magazine and D'Zine, Ltd. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.