Jiffy Pop

Jiffy Pop For decades, it's been the stovetop treat that families love to make. Just don't leave it sitting on the heat too long or you might burn the house down.

Jiffy Pop is the self-contained popcorn making apparatus that has been beloved by youngsters since 1959, when it was designed by Indiana inventor Fred Mennen. The basic design merely consists of popcorn kernels in oil, wrapped in a foil container with a handle attached. The user keeps the contraption moving over hot burner until the popcorn completely pops; the tricky part is that the foil on top puffs outward in an expanding spiral, so that the area containing the popped corn expands as much as necessary. Small children are too young to be trusted with cooking, but older kids - properly trained - can have themselves a nice, old-fashioned snack with a minimum of fuss or danger.

Jiffy Pop can be found in any decent supermarket today. But take heed: if you're going to purchase some, check the date on the package to make sure the product isn't going stale soon. Stale popcorn pops poorly.

Of course, these days making popcorn on the top of one's stove is uncommon - it's far too easy to simply pop a bag in the microwave, and safer too (as long as you don't open the piping-hot bag near your face). But those of us who grew up loving popcorn know that microwave popcorn never tastes the same as the good old-fashioned kind. In any case, however, sales of microwave popcorn far outdistance those of the once-supreme stovetop brands like Jiffy Pop.

But don't feel too bad for ConAgra, Jiffy Pop's current corporate owners: they also own Act II, one of the number-one brands of microwave popcorn.