Thursday, August 23, 2012

Popcorn and The Thrilla in Manila


I did a little shopping at the local farm market yesterday. It’s a full-blown farm market, with licensed farmers and growers selling their goods—every imaginable fruit and vegetable that grows in Ohio, fresh honey, locally raised chicken, lamb and beef, and all kinds of baked goods including dog treats.

As I was waiting at a tent to pick up some ground beef, I was delighted to see local popcorn, too. So, I bought a bag from the farmer who grew the corn. In our house, we don’t eat a lot of popcorn, and it’s microwaved when we do. But I know how to make popcorn from the kernels.

Hmmm, let me see…Ah, it was October 1, 1975…I remember it well. It was a chilly night on the shores of Lake Michigan, and I was in the tenth grade. My parents and I were settled in the old ranch house after dinner and waiting for the big fight, The Thrilla in Manila—Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier.

My mother was a huge sports fan, and we watched everything that ever aired on the major networks and WGN out of Chicago—professional and college football, basketball, baseball, roller derby on Saturdays and boxing. I sat in the room with her most nights, glazed over and disinterested, but for some reason, this fighting business struck a chord. I detest it now and hardly consider it a sport—two men in a ring being cheered on to beat each other to a bloody pulp—but at the time, I was thoroughly amazed with the Ali vs. Frazier spectacle. I had watched the melodrama leading up to the fight and had come to hate Howard Cosell. I had also come to hate Ali, too, and would yell at the TV set each time he backed himself into the corner of the ring and protected his face with his gloves. And my mother would console me—“He’s just trying to wear the other guy out,” she’d say. “Coward,” I’d say.

Well, the big night came, October 1, and I would be ready with my spot on the old scratchy sofa. I decided we would need popcorn, so I ran to the kitchen to make it the way it was made in the 70s. First, you choose a pot with a lid and pour in a little oil. Then you drop in three kernels of corn, throw on the lid and turn up the heat. When those three kernels pop, and you can hear them hit the lid with a sizzle and an aluminum “ting,” you know it's time to add the full cup of kernels and shake the pot until it's filled with fluffy corn.

I stepped out of the room for a few minutes while the oil and test kernels heated up, but I was so engrossed with the pre-fight coverage that I forgot all about my popcorn. I remembered it later and ran to the stove, lifted the lid from the very hot pot, and the burned kernels and oil immediately turned into small flames. Not sure what to do, I put the pot in the sink; and although my mother, who was on the phone at the other end of the room, frantically anticipating my next move and ready to run, shouted, “No, Robyn, don’t!” I ran water into the pot.

Well, of course, the little flame turned into a big one, and it shot up level with my face, and my mother got there just in time to put the lid on the pot and suffocate the flame. Lesson—don’t leave a pot of oil unattended, and don’t pour water on an oil fire.

I caught my breath, relieved I hadn’t singed my eye brows or burned down the house, made another batch of popcorn and watched the big fight. My man Frazier lost.

Back to August 22, 2012, I made my new market popcorn just as I had done back in 1975, minus the fire but reminiscent of the event and the era. And let me tell you, it was inedible, small and kernely, like chewing on Styrofoam-covered gravel, nothing like the corn I used to make as a kid.

I am a champion of this local market of ours, but here's another lesson—just because a farmer grows something and sells it directly to you with his own hands doesn't mean it's quality. I have loved the meat and fruit and veggies I have bought at this market, and the honey, eggs and cheese are amazing, but in the case of this bag of popcorn, it was a knock out. Not unlike my man Frazier who was nearly annihilated back in the day.

1 comment:

dive said...

Yay! What a great post, Robyn! I remember the fight, too, though I was rooting for Ali and didn't get to almost singe my face off burning the popcorn.
You took me right back. You write nostalgia better than anyone I know.