I barge into my brother’s room and declare,“Time to watch!” He swivels around in his desk chair where he’s hunched over the PlayStation controller, fully absorbed in his Call of Duty game. “Okay, okay,” he laughs, switching the screen to Amazon Prime Video, where the long-anticipated newest episode of The 100 finally appears on the screen.
I excitedly clear some room on the little red couch in his bedroom, relocating the mess of laundry, deodorant sticks, and empty seltzer cans, sinking blissfully into my spot on the right side. Soon, our two dogs nudge their noses in, and they joyfully join us in the small space between my brother and me.
This is our quarantine routine. My brother, Brett, plays PlayStation until it’s late enough to switch to the nighttime activity: watching our show together. Our most recent show is The 100; after maxing out its Netflix reruns, we proceed to the current weekly additions to the seventh and final season. We sit with the dogs and watch.
However, there’s one more crucial component to the nightly ritual. Every single time we watch, Brett presses pause within the first couple minutes, turns to me, and says, “Want to make popcorn?” Regardless of the time of night, regardless of how hungry I am, I always say yes.
Keeping the show on pause, we bounce up from the couch and race to the kitchen, where we assume our designated roles in the popcorn process. I pick the red Whirley Pop up from its resting spot on top of the fridge, and Brett grabs the butter from its resting space in the door. I turn the stove burner on and pour some vegetable oil into the red metal pot with the wooden handle, while my brother slices the butter stick into thin, small segments. The next step is adding the kernels, which collide with the metal bottom of the pot with a familiar clang.
As they tumble out of the plastic container, I pay close attention to ensure I put in just the right amount. I’ve found you want a similar measurement to an ice cream scoop—although measuring would probably result in more accuracy, I always prefer to eyeball it. Once the kernels almost cover the surface of the pot in a thin layer, it’s time to close the lid and start stirring. The first couple minutes of heat are crucial—if you don’t churn the handle in that initial time frame, you’re probably going to be disappointed with some burnt pieces of popcorn later on.
The attention required for cooking in this stage is why my brother and I always say making popcorn is a two person job. While the oil starts to sizzle, and I continuously stir the kernels around with the handle, Brett finishes up slicing the butter. Once the oil is hot enough and the initial kernels begin to pop, he throws the butter into the microwave. We have this down to a science. Popcorn takes approximately three minutes and somewhere around 40 seconds is the sweet spot for melting, so it’s best to start the butter about two minutes into the popping process. This way, both pieces of the savory snack finish simultaneously.
When using the Whirley Pop, it’s best to continue swirling the handle until there’s too much resistance to stir, since this means the pot is so full of popcorn that there is no more space. When this happens, I quickly grab two large plastic bowls from the cabinet opposite the stove, preparing them on the counter. As I move, I listen to the sound of the slowed popping, counting as the amount of seconds between each pop! lengthens from less than a second, to a second, to a couple of seconds. Once there are about two to three full seconds between each, it’s time to remove the pot from the heat. Any longer than this, and the kernels will burn, but any shorter, and there will be too many uncooked pieces.
Holding the Whirley Pop by the wooden handle, I carefully separate the steaming popcorn into the two bowls, trying my best to evenly distribute. This is somewhat of a messy endeavour—a fact well-known by our two dogs, who religiously rush over to collect any precious pieces that may accidently escape to the floor. Once the pot is emptied of the popcorn, I place it on an unused burner to cool off.
Next is the mixing process. Brett and I both like the charred, half-popped pieces the best, so it’s important to have a fair mix of bright white fully-popped pieces and darker brown half-popped ones in each bowl. I typically try to turn one bowl over on top of the other, placing their sides together to create something like a makeshift maraca. Once they seem as sealed as two smooth plastic surfaces can get, I shake the contraption vigorously to integrate the pieces. This is another potentially messy part, probably the second favorite step of the dogs.
After there seems to be a solid mixture of different types of popcorn pieces in each of the plastic bowls, it’s my brother’s turn to take over. Using a potholder or paper towel to help with the heat, he slowly drizzles the sizzling melted butter over each bowl. Once half the butter is on, he picks up each bowl and tosses the popcorn pieces in the air, thoroughly mixing. Next, he can finish pouring the rest, while I retrieve the pink himalayan salt shaker.
Salting the popcorn is the final step of the process, and the only one that we do truly individually. I am a huge salt fan, so my taste buds prefer more of a salty coating to the popcorn than his do. I grind the salt onto my bowl while he finishes buttering his, and then he finishes off the process by slightly salting his pieces. Together, we rinse off the butter bowl in the sink, grab some paper towels, and head back into his room to resume watching our show.
While composed of many small (yet crucial) steps, the entire popcorn popping process takes us less than five minutes. Sometimes we talk during it, sometimes we sing, sometimes we fight about who’s going to rinse the dishes, but regardless of any debate that occurs, we always slip into our familiar roles to get the job done swiftly and successfully.
In a time when so much feels disrupted and different from our old lives, sticking to routine has been a blessing to help me get through monotonous days. While popping is a short routine, and not a very significant one, these small moments that I share with my brother have meant a lot to me in the recent months. I love popcorn regardless of how or where it’s made, but Whirley Pop watch parties have a special place in my heart.
In the next couple weeks, the life we’ve come to know will be upended once again. Brett will head to his apartment in Amherst, and I’ll move back into BC. Despite watching the previous seven seasons together, when new episodes of The 100 come out in the fall, we’ll have to watch them separately.
Recently, my roommate has been sending us screenshots of supplies she’s buying for our new kitchen—pots, pans, spoons, measuring cups, knives. “What else do we need?” she asks in the group chat. Although I like to eyeball the measurements and never use an ice cream scoop for the kernels anyway, I feel the need to suggest we get one for our room. I like the security of knowing it’s there in the drawer if I need it. I like its smooth red handle and familiar resting spot next to the silverware in my kitchen at home.
“Maybe an ice cream scoop?” I text back, knowing they’ll probably assume I mean for ice cream. But secretly, I know its real purpose, popcorn. “And I guess we need a butter dish?” I suggest sadly, as it sinks in that I’ll have to take over Brett’s butter melting process all on my own.
Although I don’t suggest it to the full group, of course I know that I’ll need to buy a Whirley Pop. Our dad is from the midwest—as are Whirley Pops—so my brother and I grew up making popcorn with the appliance. It’s a family tradition that has since become a sibling tradition. After five months of religiously popping popcorn on the stove, the microwave bags I’ve made in previous dorm rooms are just not going to cut it this year. As my brother and I move into our separate apartments to begin our sophomore and senior years of college, respectively, I’m left to reminisce on all the late nights we shared together during quarantine, eating popcorn and binge-watching Netflix. Maybe my roommates will learn to like the Whirley Pop as much as my family does, or maybe popping popcorn will become a solo tradition at school. Either way, I will find a way to continue my popcorn-making process at college this fall—Whirley Pop pot and all!