A nos­tal­gic look at re­tail ad­ven­tures

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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.

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