Fire in the Bowl! A Cautionary Word About Jiffy Pop by Tamia Nelson

Some time back, in my weekly column, I wrote a glowing review of Jiffy Pop popcorn—a favorite food of my childhood—in which I extolled its virtues for backcountry travelers and other peripatetic souls in search of a quick and easy campfire treat.* The column was entitled “Popcorn Blowout,” and I’m afraid the title proved prophetic. Just the other day, my old favorite showed its ugly side. What I had intended as a relaxing end-of-the-day treat in camp turned into something very different—a mini fireball. Subsequent forensic investigation of the offending Jiffy Pop disclosed a pinhole in the aluminum foil pan that forms the base, lying almost hidden in a newly developed crease. This allowed liquified fat to ooze out and drip onto my stove, where it almost immediately caught fire and flared up, adding an unexpected (and unwanted) element of high drama to an evening in camp. Happily, the cook (me) wasn’t hurt and the fire didn’t spread beyond the immediate vicinity of the stove, but it really was a close-run thing.

The moral of my story? If you take Jiffy Pop with you on cycling or paddling trips, be sure to protect the foil from deformation and punctures—and inspect the pan carefully before setting it over a flame. I do this now even at home. And I won’t be making Jiffy Pop in camp on high fire-risk days, even if I can’t see any pinholes in the pan.

* A use not endorsed by Jiffy Pop’s makers, ConAgra Foods, by the way. The package cautions against popping “over a charcoal grill, open campfire, or other uneven heat.” Users of camp stoves, however, get a pass. They need only “follow directions for gas range.” That’s good advice, obviously.

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.