What, you might ask, is the single most iconic image from my childhood in the remote Alaskan bush?
My answer: A white 5 gallon bucket.
Inside it was something richly yellow, more valued than gold.
Corn kernels waiting to be popped.
My last blog post was about our once a week movie nights and several people asked why popcorn was MIA? I explained that in the Alaskan bush popcorn is not a mere sidelight, something to accompany the main article. It is the article.
To illustrate, let me quote my sister, when I asked her for popcorn memories: "I remember one time we were at [the nearby village] school, it was around Christmas-time and they were making popcorn garlands. I kept thinking to myself, what a waste!! Who does that to popcorn, it's sacrilegious!! Popcorn is meant to be eaten!"
Visitors soon learn how seriously we take our popcorn and the threat of pc deprivation. A few years ago my nephew Sterling had a friend spend the winter here. The friend laughed in perplexity at the way I'd saved the unpopped kernels from the bottom of the bowl.
"Believe me," Sterling said, "you'll be doing the same thing. You don't want to run out of popcorn out here."
Indeed, you do not.
When I was a kid popcorn wasn't just the highlight of movie night--although it was that. With five kids ravenous from galloping through the woods, over the beaches and swimming in the cold water all day, my dad popped enough popcorn to be put in a cardboard box, or brown paper grocery bag. (Besides not having to wash the bag or box, they also made excellent firestarter since they were saturated with oil and butter--when we had butter.) My dad had to start popping a half hour before the movie to allow the pan to cool between panfuls in order to fill the box or bag.
Popcorn was actually a staple of our everyday diet. Because the kernels kept so well in the sealed 5 gallon bucket it took the place of more perishable foods that would go stale when bought in cases, like crackers and cereal.
Therefore at breakfast we had popcorn cereal with reconstituted dry milk.
At lunch we had popcorn any way we were pleased to make it--our mom gave us a free hand, which was where granola popcorn came from and peanut butter-molasses popcorn. Our favorite was a hunk of cheddar cheese (as a rare treat) with popcorn. We loved this like other kids like crackers and cheese. We pretty much tried sprinkling everything on popcorn, Ramen seasoning, Macky cheese packets, Johnny's seasoning, cinnamon sugar, even salt for a change.
At dinner we'd have popcorn to add to our split pea soup or stew. I doubt a day went by when popcorn wasn't part of the menu.
Our kids, nephews and nieces, have been brought up to have a proper respect for the value of this vital staple of bush life.
Some of them have learned through experience, as we did, that when the short shelf-life, quickly gobbled treats are gone and there is no quick or easy access to a store to get more, that popcorn is your best friend.
My beautiful niece Aroon put the recipe for her caramel popcorn on her blog, at www.aroonmelane.com.
Here it is:
4 tbs butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
Turn the stove to med/low heat and add olive oil to the bottom of your pan. Allow the oil to heat for a little and add popcorn kernels until they cover the bottom of the pan. Make sure you cover the pan with a lid or the popcorn will go everywhere. After the times between each popped kernels begins to slow, you can remove the pan and put popcorn into a bowl. Sprinkle as much salt and buttered seasoning on the dry popcorn as you prefer.
In a seperate skillet add the butter, brown sugar and vanilla. Melt the brown sugar sauce on low heat until the butter is completely melted and the sauce is thin and almost of a liquid form. (If you put the stove on too high it will turn the sauce into a thick gob.) Take a tablespoon and lightly drizzle the sauce onto your salted popcorn. Make sure to toss around the popcorn to make sure you get the sauce on all of the popcorn.
P.S. If you want to see some spectacular photos of this area, taken with an artist's eye, go to my sister's blog at www.madartdesigns.com/blog. She really captures the wonder and beauty that is Alaska.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)