A few kernels of popcorn-related wisdom | Bleader

Monday, September 9, 2013

A few kernels of popcorn-related wisdom

Posted By on 09.09.13 at 05:16 PM

  • Bill Ebbesen/Wikimedia Commons
At this point, I've probably spent thousands of dollars on movie-theater popcorn—and I know full well that's a ridiculous amount to spend on kernels, oil, and salt. For the amount I spend on a large bag of popcorn at River East 21, I can buy enough of those ingredients at the supermarket to keep me snacking for months. Also, I derive more pleasure from making my own popcorn than having someone else prepare it for me. In my kitchen I have a big, old, blackened pot that's been saved exclusively for popcorn—if you put in enough kernels to line the bottom without any overlap, you end up with enough to feed two or three people. To induce popping, I usually move the pot back and forth on the range to generate friction. I'm not sure if I actually need to do this, but this was how my dad made stove-top popcorn when I was a kid, and I enjoy remembering his ritual.

I don't mean to brag, but there's no movie-theater popcorn that tastes like the stuff I make at home. I think it's because I use oil more sparingly than most theaters—my popcorn never tastes too heavy or slick. At some theaters, each kernel tastes like it's been dipped in butter even if no butter topping has been added; this popcorn always gives me a stomachache. Other theaters, in trying to avoid excessive oiliness, end up with popcorn that's too dry. I prefer this extreme to the other, though I must admit that arid popcorn reminds me of the gross premade stuff you buy at vending machines. At home I never run into this problem either, since enough steam gets created in my old steel container to maintain a good consistency. I still burn some popcorn from time to time, but I don't mind throwing away a few kernels considering how little I spend on them.

When you work at a concession stand, you spend about as much time sweeping up popcorn as you do making it. After a while, it becomes difficult to think of it as food. I worked at multiplexes during my last two years of high school, and I wasn't able to enjoy eating popcorn again until I was in my early 20s. The operative word here is eating. I never stopped loving the sound of corn popping or the ball-bearing-like noise of the seeds.

My favorite kernel-related story? The first multiplex to employ me was on the verge of shutting down when I started there. It had begun losing business when a newer theater opened down the road, and things only got worse when the manager decided not to fix the leaky roof. For the adolescents who worked there, it was like going to summer camp. We had an eight-screen cinema practically to ourselves, and the manager was too busy drinking to notice how little work we actually did. Every day we found new ways to amuse ourselves. Once we staged a concession-stand rodeo, pushing around the three-by-three wheeled contraption that held the popcorn seeds and pretending it was a bucking bronco. The coworker of mine who held out the longest also displayed a little too much zeal. Both he and the bronco crashed to the floor, spilling about 50 pounds of uncooked kernels that had to be thrown away.

We spent the next hour cleaning up the mess and trying to calculate how much potential revenue we'd destroyed. I don't remember the exact figure, but it was in the thousands. Remarkably, none of our superiors noticed anything.

Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.

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