How do I love my popcorn? Let me count the ways. I like caramel kettle corn, cheesy popcorn, Frank’s Red Hot with garlic popcorn, dark chocolate & sea salt kettle corn and good old fashioned movie theater style buttered popcorn. Popcorn has become one of the top snack foods in the world and Consumer Reports has reported that popcorn is one of the top choices for Super Bowl snack food.
Popcorn is a special variety of corn known as Zeya mays everta. The kind of corn you find in the produce section at the grocery store is sweet corn. It won’t pop if you heat it up – it just cooks. Field corn, also called “dent corn”, dries and becomes “dented” as it stands in the field after it has finished growing. After it’s harvested, the kernels still contain some moisture but wouldn’t “pop” if they were heated. Only popcorn “pops” when heated. The pericarp, or “hull” (skin) of the kernel is thick enough to allow the moisture inside the kernel to turn to steam and build pressure as it is heated. Once the little kernel gets pumped up to about three times the pressure of a car tire, it “pops”!
Popcorn has been around pretty much since the discovery of fire. It is believed to have originated in Mexico. Aztecs used popcorn in many of their ceremonies and rituals and made head dressings and necklaces from popped popcorn. Our popcorn rituals today are a little bit different and usually involve some type of sporting event or a movie. The only things we decorate with popcorn these days are Christmas trees. I’m pretty sure if I wore a popcorn necklace, I’d be attacked by birds!
Popcorn popping has changed over time too. Throwing ears of popcorn into a fire was the original technique – gritty AND nutritious! Yum. My grammy used to throw some lard and popcorn into a cast iron pan, cover it with a lid and let ‘er rip. The sound of machine gun fire coming from the kitchen alerted us to the imminent arrival of our favorite snack. Once “Jiffy Pop” came out with their aluminum pan stove-top poppers, the cast iron was retired. When we traded our S&H Green Stamps for our first electric air-popper, the stove-top never saw popcorn again. Grammy didn’t live to see microwave popcorn which debuted in the early 1980’s.
Microwave popcorn is so convenient. It smells wonderful, but it’s not much fun – especially if you accidentally allow it to burn! I was reading the contents on the microwaveable packages and I realized this was not my old popcorn. I asked my daughter “Naomi, do you want some old fashioned popcorn?” We put the big cast iron pan on the stove-top, poured in some olive oil and popping corn, covered it with a lid and put the heat to it. In a few minutes, we could hear the kernels pinging off the metal lid. We tried to spy a look and popcorn went flying across the kitchen. We both laughed. In a few minutes we had fun, loud and wonderfully healthy popcorn; and I think Grammy would be smiling.
© 2014 Curt Savage Media