When we were growing up, my father used to make multiple batches of homemade popcorn in a giant cast-iron skillet on the stove on a regular basis.
As each batch finished popping, it would be transferred into a giant metal dishpan, and he’d keep popping until the dishpan was full. Then the popcorn would be scooped into little wax-paper bags, which we took to school for snacks. (With 11 kids, my parents weren’t about to start spending money on pricey store bought- brands.) Truth be told, there was the occasional Sunday night when my parents let us have just popcorn and homemade hot cocoa for supper—which we considered a real treat. My kids haven’t gotten that lucky yet, but we still make all our popcorn from scratch.
Popping popcorn at home is awesome. In minutes, a scant ½ cup of un-popped popcorn is transformed into a generous bowl of creamy white, fresh popcorn just waiting to be anointed with melted butter and salt. You can customize this snack any way your family likes: sweet, salty, spicy, crunchy (with un-popped kernels) soft, or chewy. Some kids love a cinnamon-and-sugar version, while others like a savory finish with freshly ground black pepper and Parmesan cheese.
Whatever you use, popcorn is a fiber-rich snack that will fill the kitchen with its wonderful aroma. Make a big batch for family game night; bag up the leftovers for a snack the next day.
This is truly one of the easiest, no-fail recipes ever—and your kids can help!
Note: Use a large saucepan (a five-quart one is ideal) or a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid so the kernels don’t wind up flying out of the pan when they pop.
What You’ll Need
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/2 cup un-popped popcorn
- 4 tablespoons (1/2) stick butter, melted and cooled
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- Black pepper to taste, optional
What to Do
- Let your child measure and pour the oil into a large saucepan. (A heavy 5-quart size works very well here, and you will definitely want to use one with a tight-fitting lid.) Have her place just 3 kernels of popcorn into the saucepan, and then put the lid on top.Teachable Moment: What makes popcorn pop?Popcorn pops because moisture within the kernel is trapped in a mostly tight shell. When you heat the kernel, the water inside turns to steam. The shell keeps the steam from expanding. However, when the pressure is great enough, the shell breaks open. That’s when the popcorn pops. Popcorn, by the way, is just one of the many varieties of corn that grow on cobs, but it is not the same as the sweet corn on the cob you may eat.
- Set the saucepan on a stove burner and turn the heat to medium-high. Listen carefully, and after about 3 minutes, you will hear the kernels pop.
- Remove the saucepan lid, gradually add the remaining popcorn, and replace the lid. Let the popcorn pop, frequently shaking the saucepan and listening for the popping noises. It may take about a minute, and then the pops will be rapid and constant. Continue shaking the pan until the popping noises stop. Remove the lid and transfer the popcorn to a large bowl.Teachable Moment: Why are there always a few popcorn kernels that don’t pop?Kernels that don’t pop are, effectively, busted. They may have been damaged during growth, transport, processing, or in some other manner, causing the pressure inside to release slowly rather than burst. These kernels will never pop—they often slip down to the bottom of the bag or bowl.
- Let your child pour the melted and cooled butter from the measuring cup onto the popcorn. Let her sprinkle the salt, grated cheese, and pepper (which is optional).