I’ve been around for generations, millennia really. As long as fire was a thing and corn was a thing and people were a thing and people needing to eat corn to live was a thing. Sure, those golden or maroon or blue maize kernels could and were ground down into masa to make porridges and tortillas, starting in Mexico, at least 9000 years ago, then transported in some Christopher Columbus colonizing trade back to Italy in 1492 to kick off the polenta craze. And here we are in 2021. Corn gets a bad rap because GMO corn mostly feeds pigs and cows who can’t digest it properly. Other GMO corn is being turned into plastics and fuel for ethanol powered car engines, vroom vroom. A lot of people just think corn comes in a can, end of story. Or it’s something decorative you put on your porch around Halloween next to a jenky scarecrow and poorly carved pumpkin.
I’m getting off track though.
Right, where was I.
The simplest most delicate and pure way to experience the king corn is popped, over a flame, to airy crispy crunchy perfection. Topped with your drizzle of choice. Butter and salt, mostly, for the masses. Or if you live in San Francisco: truffle salt, furikake, or nutritional yeast.
But how, do you say, does one create this delectable divine devotion of popcorn? What is the golden vessel that it is formed in?
It’s me. Miss Whirly Pop.
Ok, fine. Maybe 9000 years ago I wasn’t called a whirly pop. I was probably a dried-out gourd. Or later a copper bowl hemmed with steady artisanal coppersmith hands, traded along a grease route from Wisconsin west to the Pacific and down to Mexico. But just think – how many people have sat around a fire with their mouth watering, waiting to enjoy the morsels I produce?
Oh, the stories I can tell you in my various iterations through time. But from my vantage point on this particular stove, watching this particular family….what a delight it’s been to see this small one, the one they call Celeste, first turn her head sharply towards the sound of the hodgepodge of kernels poured into me, Miss Whirly Pop. And then, as the heat was cranked, oil warmed up, and kernels started dancing, all that pop pop pop sporadically then a steady roar, Celeste’s face opened in a big “O” like a mix of surprise and joy, which is funny because given that this is the first time she’s heard anything of the sort in her whole human experience, who wouldn’t be surprised! And it’s a good sign that she already appears to experience joy around me.
Welcome to the club.
And I sit there and cool down, I get a little misty. Remembering about my first experience with the other one, the mom who is holding her. And the grandma who is encouraging us all to “step way back, away from my hot sides, be careful, don’t touch, very hot, you’ll get burned,” because maybe the memory was all more traumatic for the grandma than for the mom. Yes, you heard that right. Three generations enjoying Miss Whirly Pop at once! Can you believe it?!
But right, the memory. Oh, that mom, she was tiny. Walking yes, tall enough to reach the counter, yes. It was summer because I remember everyone being in their pajamas but the sun was still drooping on the horizon. The windows were open, cicadas doing what they do. What a brilliant idea to dig me out of the basement storage and plug me in (it was the 1980s, open flamed stoves were out of vogue so my then-iteration was a very Suzanne Sommers-inspired popcorn popper, one that plugged in and promised to short out whole electrical panels. Forgive me, please.). And yes, so lucky, we do still have a canister of corn kernels gathering dust in the pantry. Let’s do this, household!
That grandma, who was then just a mom, with the same caution, the same warning. “Step way back, away from my hot sides, be careful, don’t touch, very hot, you’ll get burned…”
And the mom, who was then just a little one, frozen in place in her nightgown, heart beating full of curiosity. What does that feel like? How bad could it really be? How is that magic happening? Let me just get closer, a tiny bit. Just a bit. And touch it “yawwwwwww” she yelled! And her finger, the index one, the pointer one, the important one especially for tomorrow’s piano lesson, blowing up and up and up, the big old blister dwarfing so many other parts of that little thing’s body.
I thought, “Oh dear, oh me, oh my.”
But the then-mom, thinking quick, ran to get the sewing kit and a needle and popped that growing balloon immediately before I, Miss Whirly Pop, had even finished my own spin cycle and the then-child had completely melted down. Brilliant!
Oh, I have many stories to tell. Yes, I do.