THE SATURDAY SHOP
A nostalgic look at retail adventures
Ruth Spencer on retail adventures
The fascination on the faces of these shoppers implies that popcorn was a novelty in the 1950s. Not so. Popcorn appears frequently in our local archives, especially as a setup for jokes about “popping the question”. “A young lady was badly burned popping corn,” reads one droll entry from 1891. “This should teach girls to let young men do the popping!’’ The humour has dated and this capable demonstrator can handle her own popping, but the appeal of popcorn remains.
Store demonstrations are called Brand Experience these days but the principle is the same: catch shoppers when they’re hungry with something that smells delicious. On the demonstration table are some innovations in flavourings; Orange De Luxe and Chocolate Emulsion Essence, powdered drink mixes to roll the popcorn in. You could try this today with Raro or Milo, but don’t say we said to.
The full pot of fluffy corn belies the bane of the stovetop popper: the ones that don’t pop. A tip from the time recommends soaking the more reluctant kernels in cold water for three minutes, as it’s the dehydrated ones that can’t gather the steam to explode. Since the 50s though, popcorn has been improved by plant breeders and unpopped kernels have been reduced by 75 per cent. Fans of burnt crunchy bits lament.
“Popcorn” was also a popular dye colour for clothing fabrics and silk stockings. Not the creamy shade you may be picturing; it was instead the dark golden yellow of raw kernels. Your guess is as good as any for the other colours advertised with it: Dryad, Goblin, Carib, and the slightly terrifying Burnt Nude. Perhaps that last one was inspired by the unfortunate young lady recklessly popping her own corn.
Popcorn (‘Popping Corn’) being demonstrated at a Self Help grocery store.