Tuesday, June 02, 2009

popping memories

I have a confession to make.

I have a vice: I love popcorn.

Not the Gershon Kingsley song. The snack.

It has everything that I love in a snack: salt, grease, bulk. And comfort.

Like most food vices, there is a back story to my obsession.

When I was a young lad, I would often stay with my grandmother in Powers. Her property had vegetable and flower gardens filled with fascinating insects, a chicken yard filled with chicks, and a popcorn popper.

The popcorn popper looked ancient to me. Its electric cord must have been designed in the 1920s. But it was the glass lid that fascinated me. You could watch the popcorn kernels build up their internal water pressure -- until they exploded one after another into my evening delight.

Because popcorn was always an evening snack food. There was no television. There was a usually-silent radio. But the evening's entertainment was usually to flip through World War II photography books. While eating the popcorn.

I know life was probably never that naive. But it seems that way in my memory. And a bowl of freshly-popped popcorn will bring it back faster than the smell of oranges at Christmas.

I had never noticed popcorn on my trips to Mexico. That seemed strange to me. Mexico is the very heart of North American corn culture. Not having popcorn here would be like not having popcorn in -- Iowa.

But it is here. I must have missed it in the past. In those old-fashioned plastic wrappers -- just like at cousin Ken's Powers Market.

I should have said this earlier. Popcorn out of an air popper. Popcorn out of a microwave. These are not popcorn. For whatever virtues they may have, they are culinary abominations.

Popcorn must be popped in a heavy skillet with a good-grade corn oil, and topped with just a small dash of sea salt. (There was a period when I dated a woman from Miami. We would put a 50/50 mixture of butter and tabasco sauce on our popcorn. That practice ended with the relationship.)

When I found what appeared to be popcorn Just Like My Grandmother Bought, I slapped my pesos on the counter, and scurried home to pop up a memory. Pan on the flame. Oil. Popcorn. Sea salt.

And you were ready for this, weren't you? It was beyond disappointing. It smelled like popcorn. It looked like popcorn. It tasted like packing material.

Anyone who has ever eaten corn on the cob in Mexico knows why. Most Americans have become accustomed to hybrid varieties of corn with an extremely high sugar content. And that is the type of corn that ends up in Orville Redenbacher's jars.

Mexican corn tastes more like field corn -- what Americans would serve to good old Kansas beef.

In its popcorn form, it tastes like -- well, popped field corn.

If I could get into my time machine and head back to Powers in the 1950s, I am certain the popcorn would taste almost like the popcorn I bought here in Melaque. Our tastes were not as sugar-oriented then as they are now.

And considering how well I have done on losing weight and reducing my blood pressure (Monday's reading was fantastic), I really do not need to reverse that progress in pursuit of memories.

A vice, not quite conquered.


Anonymous said...

I agree, only stove top popcorn enters my domain. I prefer the "white kernel" type. How about chicharones in Melaque, how do they compare to those sold NOB?

jennifer rose said...

Popcorn corn is different from field corn is different from sweet corn. There are many varieties of corn, and each has its purpose. And each favors a different kind of soil and climate.

Good popping popcorn corn is sold here, but likely not at a little tienda in a little beach village. And it does become stale, which is likely what yours was, since home-popped popcorn isn’t really much in favor in these parts. All variety and flavor of microwaveable popcorn is sold all over the place, too. And pre-popped, pre-seasoned popcorn, too. As are hot-air popcorn poppers, well, at Costco.

Tastes are different in every nook and cranny of the world. I don’t imagine that chicharrones were a big hit in Powers, Oregon.

Steve, the consistent tone in your blog posts points in one direction, and it’s one which Don Felipe, f.k.a. Miguelito, has mentioned more than a few times. Hie yourself to San Miguel de Allende.

Julian from SC said...

Ah, well mine is Cheetos, of all things -- eat with your fingers, salty with a good crunch while leaving your fingers a lovely shade of orange. And, of course, it goes so well with my Cuba Libre (Rum and coke with fresh line juice). Yes, I know I am weird, but to me it is a great combination.

Only trouble is that it is so very hard to lose any weight if I practice this combination several nights a week (ok, most nights!!).

So, I have given them up for a while and I hope that that will start my weight heading back in the right direction.

Do let us know how the professor is doing!


Chrissy and Keith said...

We brought back microwavable Chicharrones. Charlotte got them for us at Costco. These are terrific and you should avoid them at all cost. I am certain that Doctora would not include them as part of your daily healthy diet. But they do make for an interesting and tasty treat for guests. They continue to crackle like rice krispies for several minutes after cooking. Served with some sea salt, Valentina's and cervesa fria...you will be the hit of the barrio.

Islagringo said...

Have you started a USA wish list yet? Things that people can bring you when they come down? Popcorn probably will be at the top! Even here in the tiny grocery store on the island we can get regular old yellow popping corn in bags. It tastes just like popcorn should. I agree with you on microwave popcorn. Just not the same.

Jackie said...

My favorite beach snack when on Isla is a little bag of popcorn from one of the beach vendors. They sell popcorn and chiccarones for #10 pesos. I have no idea what kind of a popper they use but it tastes like the kind of popcorn you described from your childhood. (Mine too)

Steve Cotton said...

Francisco -- We really are going down the nostalgia trail. My grandmother's favorite snack was fried pork rinds -- a taste we did not and do not) share. But she also loved chicken and turkey necks. I suspect that I will not be frequenting the chicharrón bowl. But, who knows? I have tried almost everything set in front of me -- and a few things I have grabbed on my own.

Jennifer -- In many ways, I am a work in progress.

Juian -- The professor just returned from a multi-block walk where he thought he was the king of the neighborhood. He is old, but feeling better.

Chrissy -- My grandmother is smiling somewhere.

Islandgringo -- One problem I did not mention is heat. I have a six burner stove that looks very nice. But the propane feed must not be very strong. Cooking seems to take forever. With popcorn, low heat is death.

I have not yet started the "bring me" list. Discovering Manzanillo forestalled that project.

glorv1 said...

Glad to hear Jiggs is going for his walks and doing better. As for popcorn, how nice that you think of your Grandmother. I think that we all have these memories that uplift our souls for just that moment. With me, when I'm cleaning and cutting nopales, my Grandmother is right there with me. I think that's why I love the idea of growing nopales. This time of the year I just go out in back, cut them off and go to my special table for cutting and cleaning nopales and my Grandmother Maria is right there with me. Have a great June Steve and hugs to Jiggs.

Gman said...

Douse in copious amounts of salt and butter. You won't care what kind of corn it is! lol

My childhood memories are of the jiffy pop, cooked on a gas stove. I remember making sure I was the one who got to rock the Jiffy Pop back and forth on the stove.

Charley said...

Let's have that chick from Miami and her Tabasco sauce brought out and examined....you could call that blog entry "End of an Error" or something or other, and start off with a cold opening like....oh like Dickson does in tales of Zapata street. COME ON!

American Mommy in Mexico said...

Nice writing. Really took me back to when you were a kid.

Constantino said...

I think you are on to something here. You have lots of time on your schedule, simply pick up a cart with two large bicycle wheels, an apron, and a sign, you should be able to garner between 5 to 10 pesos per sack, maybe 15 from the gringos, after all, you may bring some new tastes and appreciation to your beach front.
Just kidding..... about the new tastes....

Steve Cotton said...

Jackie -- Maybe I should be heading to Isla for my snacks.

Gloria -- Our grandmothers seem to stay with us daily -- and forever.

Gman -- I was never much of a Jiffy Pop guy. It just seemed too fancy for me, I guess.

Charley -- I am pretty good about writing about my foibles. I am a little reluctant to drag the innocent victims who have come into contact with me into these tales. But we shall see.

AMM -- Another omen for the future?

Constantino -- Not a bad idea. First, I need to make friends with the local constabulary. No sense reenacting the outtakes from Godfather II.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Tabasco sauce is an abomination. period, end of discussion.
I do however like Valentina picante sauce on my popcorn. Less calories than butter.Though it was a bit of a shock when I got popcorn at the movies for the first time here and it came with Valentina not butter
I like all sorts of weird stuff on popcorn, orange zest mixed with honey and butter is really good too.

BoBo's Mom said...

Glad to hear Jiggs is doing better. I'm amazed what a simple haircut would do.

Calypso said...

We use the Valentina as well - a little spice in life. We find the popping corn here is better than what we were able to get in the U.S.

We have a large commercial popper we use for events here in the Hood - very successful ;-)

maria luz said...

Valentina ROCKS!! I have been using it for years way before it was available in Texas. The best.

Steve, you might try chicharron the real Mexican way. I learned this from my tio in D.F. Make a really good bowl of guacamole from the best, really ripe aguacates you can find. Make sure you do not under salt it. Buy the best chicharron you can buy, in other words, not greasy yucky stuff. Light, crispy and delectable. Lather that creamy guacamole onto the chicharron liberally, then douse the whole thing with a well made Pico de Gallo (Salsa Mexicana or Salsa Fresca), or some Valentina. I swear, it will make a believer out of you.

Or don't since it certainly is not diet food. On the other hand, if you are on a low carb, high protein diet a la Atkins or the like, you can drown yourself in it once in a while.

With a nice Negra Modelo...wow!

Happy to hear the two of you are doing better!


1st Mate said...

Well, if you're determined to give it up, I will NOT pick up a couple of extra-large bags of popcorn next time we're in the states and bring them to you this fall when we come back to Barra and the boat.

By the way, we always use an air popper. That way, we can use extra butter without feeling guilty!

Steve Cotton said...

Theresa -- I agree with you about tabasco sauce. I avoid any vinegar-based hot sauce. They remind me of salad dressing. Orange zest, you say? Interesting.

BoBo's Mom -- A haircut -- and a complete set of new medicines. But he is doing far better.

Calypso -- I am starting to think the issue is not the quality of the popcorn, but the heat (or lack of heat) that my stove puts out. It may not have adequate BTU for popping corn. Now, a popcorn machine sounds like something I truly need. Maybe I could open my own cinema in the parking area.

Maria Luz -- I hate to admit this, but I am not very fond of avacados. And guacamole is something I can eat, but that I never truly enjoy. I suppose I should report for deportation right now. I need to try Valentina. It is certainly has great references.

1st Mate -- By the time fall rolls around, who knows where my vices will have led me.