On Friday night, I got together with Steve and Elise to watch a movie. We visited the store to buy some essential movie-watching supplies.

Besides the beer, cigarettes, olives and chopsticks, we bought a 2 pound bag of popcorn. How much is inside a bag of popcorn? We decided to find out.

In 1890, long before pop-rocks, an edible phenomenon called "popcorn" swept into American cities, thrilling crowds on busy street corners. Invented by Chinese warlords, curious urbanites began lining up to see it pop, crackle and snap into soft delicious snack food. 

"Was it dangerous?" They wondered outloud.
"Was it witchcraft?", they wondered silently.
"Could it be used as a contraceptive?" they wondered later, in the privacy of their own homes.

Crowds of these "popper-watchers" soon began to impact the inner city traffic flow and new regulations forced the show indoors. Opera houses and butcher shops were converted into makeshift popping theatres.

In 1894, the Redenbacher Observadome, the nation's first purpose-built popcorn theatre opened in Philadelphia. It featured dozens of seats arranged for a terrific view into the popping vessel. It was affordable entertainment for the common man.

Pop culture was born.

After a few years, popcorn became available for home entertainment. A less-volatile version was even created for use by housewives. The popping theatres were abandoned, or converted into an even newer form of entertainment centre: The movie theatre.

One of the six ways to pop popcorn is with hot air.  My blowdryer was malfunctioning, so we used Elise's Popcorn Pumper instead.

Steve poured the first batch into the hopper, and tilted it into the hot air chamber, also known as "the crucible".

We also put butter into the top heating tray. Hot, melted butter helps keep the popping machinery well lubricated. You can also substitute QMI H-1 Food Grade Grease.

The popcorn didn't pop immediately. It just spun around inside the machine.

I thought it needed a little boost, so I went to get my gas can from the car.

That turned out to be unnecessary,  because by the time I came back upstairs, the popcorn was going crazy!

The moisture inside the corn kernels was expanding, violently bursting out of the hard shells. It was literally turning the entire seed structure inside-out!

Each kernel released a single photon of energy, changing the molecular structure of the corn and propelling the food two steps up the food pyramid.

In just a few minutes, the entire load of corn had been transformed into this crunchy white snack food!

It was mesmerizing, like a tiny indoor fireworks show! We set to work popping a second, then third batch. 

The volume of corn increased tremendously. Each handful of popcorn kernels yielded a small bucket of popped corn.

Much like the french fries experiment, it was very difficult to not eat any of the popcorn.

The hotter and fresher the corn was, the more I liked it!

About 45 minutes later, we were popping the ninth and final batch of popcorn.

Also, the 23 movie previews on the tape seemed to be coming to an end, signaling the start of the featured presentation.

The total yield was 29 liters, or 7 3/4 gallons of popcorn, at a price of about 18 cents per gallon.

Movie theatres in Sacramento often use a fancy French butter known as Celles sur Belle, and fancy French salt, known as sel marin, which can boost the price significantly.

Thanks in part to our freshly popped snacks the movie experience was awesome!

Besides our giant bag of popcorn, giant beers and giant television, we took steps to create a realistic theater environment:

We sprinkled about half of the popcorn on the floor, Elise sat talking on her phone during the whole movie, Steven crinkled cellophane wrappers and I, of course, handled the laser pointer.

Always use eye protection when popping corn.

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Dec. 1998.

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