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Eden Kennedy

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Eden Kennedy is a Southern California mom who, along with Alice Bradley, founded the website Let's Panic About Babies!, which became a book in 2011. Eden also blogs regularly at her personal blog, Fussy, where she posts both written and video content about her family life, blogging, books, and movies. On her Babble Voices blog, The Popcorn Whisperer, Eden writes about movies, television shows, and how entertainment relates to raising children.

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The Best Way to Make Popcorn (Thanks, Mom)

By Eden Kennedy |

I spent the last year living without a microwave oven and thus sort of inadvertently living without popcorn. The lack of microwave wasn’t because I was taking a stand against Big Appliance, it was just that we moved and left our old microwave behind. It was pretty dirty. (We may or may not have moved to avoid cleaning the microwave, I’m not at liberty to say.)

In my microwave owning years I had come to believe that the ancient art of making popcorn in a pot on the stove fell somewhere between anachronistic and dangerous. After all, there was an entire section of my local supermarket devoted to enabling America’s addiction to the joys of putting a flat little bag in a microwave, pressing the dedicated POPCORN button, and two minutes and 30 seconds later rewarding yourself with a drug treat so delicious it would make your great-grandmother weep. Why would she weep? Because she was born in a time where you risked burning down the house trying to make a harmless snack. You might think I’m exaggerating but one of my most vivid childhood memories was of my babysitter, Lynette, making popcorn for me on our electric stove, and when she lifted up the lid to see if the first three kernels had popped, a giant flame leaped straight up toward her face. She slammed the lid back down and her hair only got a little singed, thankfully, but the popcorn tasted horrible and she made me play Monopoly later, a game that I hate to this day.

A few weeks ago my son finally persuaded us to buy a new microwave, and I was forced to realize how wonderful yet awful microwave popcorn is. Wonderful because it smells so amazing, awful because it’s coated in substances so lethal that they sicken the people who manufacture the stuff.

I decided that to salve my own childhood scars and move bravely into the future I’d force myself to make popcorn for Babble in the quest for a tastier, healthier version of this fluffy but oft-maligned snack.


I decided to try popcorn four different ways: pre-made (Trader Joe’s), store-bought microwave (Orville Redenbacher’s), home-made microwave (Jolly Time), and stove top-popped using coconut oil (also Jolly Time).

Thanks to the encouragement of some friends who swear that eating popcorn made in coconut oil is like making love to a unicorn that smells like Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem drinking pina coladas on a beach in Bermuda, I decided to start on the stove. I began by whanging a couple of tablespoons full of coconut oil into the bottom of the pot my husband uses to make boeuf bourguignon. It’s a nice enamel-coated iron pot that heats really evenly. Coconut oil melts surprisingly fast, even just on medium heat.


When the coconut oil melted — and you can really smell Trader Joe’s coconut oil, as opposed to other brands I’ve used that have almost no coconut flavor or smell to them — I dumped in a bunch of Jolly Time kernels, enough to cover the bottom of the pot.


Then I put on a hair net and prayed. No, then I put the lid on the pot, forgetting that you’re supposed to just put a few kernels in first and wait until the oil’s hot enough to pop them before putting in the rest. Does it matter that I abandoned all reason and skipped the step that nearly melted the face off my babysitter? NO, IT DOES NOT.



I shook the pan while I heard popping noises and then stopped and turned off the heat when the popping slowed. Then I sprinkled some salt on top and ate all the popcorn, and maybe also the pot. It was DELICIOUS. I didn’t even consider adding butter, since the kernels already had a slight, everso delicate coating of the coconut oil already on them. It was truly a revelation.

On to phase two. A nice commenter on my microwave blog post had mentioned how she made her own microwave popcorn using just a brown paper lunch sack, so that was my next test. I got a bag and put some corn in it. How much? This much.


Then I folded over the top two times, as per her instructions, and put the bag into the magical science box.


And guess what? IT WORKED. It popped right up without a dab of diacetyl-based butter flavoring. It was a kitchen miracle!


You still might want to put some salt and butter or whatever on there. I am not nearly hardcore enough to think that plain popcorn tastes like anything but the rocks on the beach where Javier Bardem is now contemplating the sunset while riding the unicorn lazily through the surf, but you know yourself best. Throw some brewer’s yeast on there, or balsamic vinegar, or parmesan cheese. BEE POLLEN. GO CRAZY.

Next up was me really not wanting to make any Orville Redenbacher extra-cheezy sickness kernels. Then I remembered that I once posted my mother’s recipe for homemade Cracker Jack on the Internet, so I searched around until I found where I’d hidden it on Flickr.

My Mom's Cracker Jack Recipe

And then I said to myself, Self: it’s Valentine’s Day and you’re not going to give the day to some dead guy named Orville, you’re going to make some caramel corn in honor of your mom and then you’re going to have a good cry on Penelope Cruz’s shoulder while you eat it for lunch.


This is the pot my husband uses when he’s making chile con carne for 150. I put in the sugar, water, butter, and vinegar, and then stood the hell out of the way.



I was all geared up to dump all of that popcorn into the caramel once it turned amber, but it turns out that if you actually read the recipe it begs you not to do idiotic things like that. My mom specifically wrote that you’re supposed to put TWO QUARTS of popcorn into the caramel.

This was the point where I looked into the refrigerator to eyeball the carton of orange juice, thinking, “That’s a quart, right? So, two of those?” WRONG. Your average carton of orange juice is actually 1.8 quarts. So I asked the internet how many cups are in a quart and it said four. So while the caramel continued to cook, I measured eight cups of popcorn into a bowl.


It didn’t seem like much but sometimes you have to trust your dead mother’s handwriting on a torn up old recipe card.

FYI, this is what “amber” is starting to look like:



The sugar is actually burning, and to be honest you do get a whiff of vinegar at first, but you have to TRUST. Then, when all the golden buttery color has turned amber brown, turn the heat off! Dump the popcorn in! And then stir, stir, stir, stir, stir until all the popcorn is coated.


It takes a little while. Don’t give up!

Then tip it all onto a cookie sheet, spread it around some, and, because we live in the 21st century and eat salted caramel everything, sprinkle some SEA SALT on top while it’s still as warm and receptive as Javier Bardem’s eyes.




Try not to eat the whole thing all at once!

So, yeah, I forgot to even open that bag of Trader Joe’s popcorn. Maybe I’ll save it for another post where I compare monosaturated fats to the poetry of James Franco.

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About Eden Kennedy


Eden Kennedy

Eden Kennedy is a Southern California mom who, along with Alice Bradley, founded the website Let's Panic About Babies!, which became a book in 2011. Eden also blogs regularly at her personal blog, Fussy, where she posts both written and video content about her family life, blogging, books, and movies. Read bio and latest posts → Read Eden's latest posts →

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12 thoughts on “The Best Way to Make Popcorn (Thanks, Mom)

  1. Trasherati says:

    I love all the popcorn experimentation on our behalf, and fully intend to make and consume a metric ton of that salted caramel popcorn, but the real value of this post lies in the brave public statement that Monopoly is the single most boringest awfullest game in the history of games. Those may not be your exact (non)words, but I think we feel each other on this one.

    Bravo, Eden – it needed to be said.

    1. Eden Kennedy says:

      I am glad I’m not alone in feeling that Monotony is the worst, dumbest game ever invented. That being said, I’ve managed to make it through several Monotony Junior games and I recommend it, mostly because you can finish a whole game in less than ten minutes.

  2. Suebob says:

    I love the term “oleo”. Reminds me of my mom.

  3. ozma says:

    I made it. I had two problems. First was that I used organic sugar which was already amber colored. So I didn’t know how long to cook it. I guestimated that the sugar had to be carmelized and that would probbly take awhile. Second my pot was a little too small to dump all the popcorn in.

    It came out fabulously–but the salt I used was regular iodized salt. The salt seems really crucial. With that, it is perfect.

    1. Eden Kennedy says:

      I used organic sugar, too, so it does start out brown. Maybe I need a better photo to show how amber it needs to get. It needs to cook in there for at least three to five minutes to get to the right color. And I used the crappiest sea salt available, not the crunchy high-end stuff, but next time I will get something a little more exotic. Maybe one of those smoke-flavored salts.

  4. Ceciley says:

    this sounds so so soooo yummy! question: is the “T” for table spoons or tea spoons? Can’t wait to try it!

  5. The T is for tablespoons.

  6. [...] thing, I promise, I did a post over at the Popcorn Whisperer where I invent Salted Caramel Popcorn and explain how to make it and it’s MAGNIFICENT. It is truly a revelation. Go over there and [...]

  7. Jen Wilson says:

    Damn you! (and I mean that in the best possible way)

  8. Shawn says:

    I made the coconut oil popcorn today – every bit as good as you say it is!! Caveat: the unpopped kernels have to be room temp to start out. Otherwise the coconut oil will burn before the corn pops. Also made the caramel corn. OMG amazingly good. I had a bit of caramel leftover, luckily I also had some popcorn left over, so I actually made 2 qts plus another 2 cups. The extra two cups of caramel corn have mysteriously vanished. I wonder how that happened??

  9. [...] one of my faves (Eden Kennedy) isn’t a food blogger either, but she managed to whip up this post/recipe thing so, you know, permission [...]

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