Popcorn: Mythical & Magical Maize

Print More


Visit The VPR Table Homepage

Not just for microwaves, popcorn is a stove-top popping delight!

This week on the VPR Table, Marialisa Calta shares some little know facts and debunks some widely accepted myths about popcorn. Listen for The VPR Table, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, as we
explore popcorn: from where you go to eat popcorn, to what you put on
top, to which kind of popcorn comes from Franklin, Vermont.



This time of year, there’s
nothing like a cozy couch, a good movie

– and a big bowl of
popcorn.   For us popcorn lovers, there
will be no heaven without our favorite treat. The Pre-Incan inhabitants of
Chile must have felt the same way. They buried their loved ones with bags of

Popcorn played a
significant role in the history of the Americas. In fact, anthropologists
believe that 8000 years ago, the first eating corn was domesticated from wild
popcorn. Andrew Smith, writing in "Popped Culture: A Social History of
Popcorn," said that among the pre-Columbian Amerindians, "popping likely caused
surprise and some amusement."  Life had
to be pretty hard back then. Leave it to popcorn to supply a few chuckles.

Contrary to legend, Smith
says, there was no popcorn at the first Thanksgiving. Popcorn, he says, was not
even cultivated east of the Mississippi until the 18th century. But when it got
here, it was a hit, immortalized in paintings and poems. Older Vermonters will
tell you about popcorn parties, and about eating popcorn with milk for a snack
or light supper.

Today in Vermont, there is
at least one farm growing popcorn – The Vermont Popcorn Company run by Amy and
Eric Beauregard in Franklin.  They
started five years ago, but several crops were lost to early snow and heavy rains.
This year, Amy says, she’ll be drying a bumper crop over winter, for sale in
the spring.

Popcorn consumption peaked
in American in 1993, a mere decade after the introduction of… microwave
popcorn. Coincidence? I think not. Microwave popcorn turns kernels of corny
goodness in to Styrofoam-peanut-like bits. And, it’s not even much quicker than
stovetop corn.

The beauty of hot,
oil-popped popcorn is that it needs nothing but salt and, perhaps, nutritional
yeast, a topping popularized by Montpelier’s Savoy Theater. New owners have
kept the yeast, and added wine to the beverages. A glass of wine and a tub of
yeast-topped popcorn. Heaven achieved.



I write a weekly food column, and years ago it was my
pleasure to work with students and chefs from the New England Culinary
Institute, developing recipes for the column. In 1999, I was writing about
popcorn, and this is what students Stacy Corley and Matthew Wellnitz came up

4 cups popped popcorn

1/4 cup maple syrup

salt and pepper to taste

4 5-ounce salmon fillets, preferably wild salmon


vegetable oil, for cooking

     Preheat oven to
375 degrees F. 

     Put the popcorn
in a plastic bag and crush it with a rolling pin, as if you were making cracker
crumbs.  You don’t have to make them too
fine- single lobes of popcorn are the desired size.  You will have about 2 and 1/2 cups of crumbs.

     Put the crushed
popcorn into a shallow dish and drizzle the maple syrup over it.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well with your hands so that the syrup is
well distributed.

     Season the salmon
fillets with salt and pepper and, using a pastry brush, brush the flesh-side of
each with your favorite mustard. Then, press the coated side of the salmon in
the maple-popcorn mixture, pressing the popcorn on with your hands. Set the
fillets aside, coated side up.

    Heat about a
tablespoon of oil (or enough to coat bottom of pan) in a skillet until quite
hot but not smoking.  Sear the popcorn
side of one  fillet about 45 seconds;
flip over and sear skin side for about a minute.  Remove 
and place in an oven-proof dish large enough to hold all four
fillets.  Repeat for the remaining three
fillets, adding more oil between searing if needed. 

     Bake for 7 to 10
minutes, or until fish is done to your liking. 
Serve immediately.

Note:  this recipe
should also work well with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Pound them thin
before coating. 

Yield: 4 servings

Historical popcorn recipes, reprinted from "Popped Culture:
A Social History of Popcorn in America," by Andrew F. Smith (University of
South Carolina Press, 1999). I haven’t tested any of these.



1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup corn meal

2 cups popped popcorn

2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup water

        Sift a bowl the
flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt. Put the popcorn through a food
chopper and add to the dry ingredients. Stir in the egg, milk and water. Beat
lightly until smooth, and bake on a hot, greased griddle. Serve with sirup
[sic] or honey.

From "The Thrift Cook Book" by Marion Harris Neil  (David McKay, Philadelphia: 1919)



When we serve corn chowder, we use popped corn with it in
place of crackers; it is a pleasing novelty.

Good Housekeeping magazine, March, 1907, p. 358



Just before the morning bacon or sausage is altogether
cooked, add to the grease a generous handful of popped popcron: allow it to
brown and serve with the meat. It adds a delicious, nutty flavor.

From "Pop Corn Recipes," by Mary Hamilton Talbott (Sam
Nelson, JR. Company, Grinnell Iowa, 1916)



3/4 cup finely chopped popped corn

1 tablespoon melted butter

white of 1 egg

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

blanched and finely chopped almonds

candied cherries

        In a bowl,
combine the popped corn and butter. In another bowl, beat the egg white until
stiff, add the sugar and continue beating. Fold into the popcorn mixture. Add
salt and vanilla and stir gently until well mixed. Drop from the tip of a
teaspoon onto a well-buttered baking sheet, 1 and 12/ inches apart.. Shape in
circle with the spoon and flatten with a table knife that has been dipped in
cold water. Sprinkle with chopped nut meats and press a shred of candied cherry
in the top of each macaroon. Bake in a slow oven* until daintily browned.

*250 to 300 degrees F.

From "The Corn Book, War edition, by Elizabeth Hiller
(P>F. Vollandd Company, New York, 1918)



Comments are closed.