My grandparents had an air popper they would pull out for me on the best Saturday afternoons—the same machine that they used when my mother was young. The popper would spark as soon as the plug touched the outlet, and I would cheer with the commencement of its deafening whir.
Although many have tried to convert me to popping corn in an oily pot, I have never succumbed. I have also tried to embrace microwave popcorn for its warmth and convenience, but the bag was off-putting. (How does heating that material to a high temperature seem like a good idea?) When I had children, I searched for an air popper so I could carry on the line, and as I perused the shelves of my local hardware store, I was surprised to find a less dusty version of the very same machine I had known throughout my childhood. It seems after all that such a perfect invention leaves no room for improvement, and that the introductory spark upon plugging in is a necessary step in making the best popcorn.
An air popper can fill a bored and hungry afternoon with something warm and homemade in just a few minutes. To say “Popcorn?” with the right intonation will snap my girls out of the worst of moods, and the sight of the corn bursting out of the mouth of the popper never fails to strike Rosie as entirely hilarious—at the first pop she falls off her stool with the force of her own laughter.
Popcorn is also an excellent option for a savory snack, even a whole-grain one. We usually pour a touch of melted butter and salt over the popped corn and that is that. For those of you with a sweet tooth, my friend Michele DiSimone, mama to three who are never bored or hungry, has shared her Maple Popcorn recipe. It makes a big batch, but beware—it will be gone before you know it. It also makes a great gift.
Makes 18 cups
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, plus additional to butter the bowl and pans
1 cup unpopped popcorn
1 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract, homemade or store-bought
1. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Butter two 9 × 13-inch baking pans and your largest bowl.
2. Pop the corn according to your preference and transfer the popcorn to the buttered bowl.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the maple syrup, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and let it cook, without stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the baking soda and vanilla and stir to combine. The mixture will foam up and bubble and smoke.
4. Very gently (or your popcorn might deflate!), pour 1 cup of the sugar mixture over the popped corn and stir until evenly coated. Coat with more sugar mixture and stir again, repeating until all of the sugar mixture is coating the popcorn. Divide the popcorn between the two baking pans.
5. Bake for 1 hour, stirring the popcorn every 15 minutes. Cool before serving.
Room temperature in a covered container for 3 weeks.
Freezer in a freezer-safe container or bag for 6 months (great right out of the freezer)
Excerpted from The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. Copyright © 2012 by Alana Chernila. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher.