There's a flame under the cauldron that comes roaring to life. You check your protective sleeves, flick down your visor and toss a half dozen kernels of popocorn into the rapidly heating oil. You wait until they start to pop and quickly dump in the scoopful of popcorn and then directly upon that a smaller scoop of sugar. You grab up the wooden paddle and start stirring the bubbling mix of kernel, oil and sugar. Back, forth, around, back forth, around. A few begin to pop and then a few more -- and you stir more vigorously. Spatterings of oily sugar and rogue kernels fly up and most, but not all arc back into the great kettle. A needle-sharp jab of oil hits an exposed bit of skin on your neck. And then things intensify into a shocking machine-gun crescendo of popping and flying. Passersby pause to see what the commotion is. As the climax passes you slam down the lever and the roar of the burner stops, but the popping keeps going and you keep stirring as fast as you can. Finally, you grab a handle and lever the whole cauldron up onto its side to dump the steaming kettlecorn out onto the perforated metal bin. Once you spread it, salt it, spread it again and salt it again -- you have kettlecorn ready to bag and sell for the fairgoers.
For 7 hours at the Washington County fair, I made the batches, one after another and Gordon helped to bag them. It's the year's great fundraiser for the cub scout pack -- and in exchange for our sweaty shifts -- we don't have to distract the scouts with fundraising for the rest of the year.