Pop, Pop, Popcorn

Popcorn. With more varieties than you can shake a stalk at, this snack is fun to grow, beautiful to observe, and delicious to eat.

  • Heirloom popcorn comes in a wide variety of colors.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman
  • Store popcorn in air-tight containers to keep it from dehydrating too much.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman
  • Try different toppings for your popcorn with Sriracha sauce, ranch dressing powder or garlic butter and Parmesan cheese.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman
  • Plan on weeding, hoeing or cultivating your corn patch until the stalks can shade the soil beneath them. This prevents new weeds from growing.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman
  • Like other grasses, popcorn appreciates a few feedings of nitrogen rich fertilizers, typically at planing, again when the stalks reach your knees, and finally when tassels begin to form.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman

A few months ago, the Weidman household suffered a paralyzing crisis. Our hot-air popcorn popper burned out, the victim of a short, heavy life of delivering popcorn on demand.

We spent a few weeks flirting with microwave popcorn, until the pungent fake-butter flavors, questionable additives, and burnt kernels drove us to buy a new air popper. As you might have guessed, we like popcorn—a lot. It’s our Dancing with the Stars/Movie Night go-to snack. We typically pop up and polish off two gallons of the fluffy, crunchy snack once or twice a week, buttered and salted of course. Even the dogs get in on the act, anxiously waiting to have their own little bowls filled with popcorn.

We’re not alone, either. According to the Popcorn Board, America crunched its way through 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn in 2012. If you removed all 100,000 seats of the Rose Bowl stadium and maybe changed the name to the American Popcorn Bowl, you could fill it to heaping four times over with that much popcorn! More than two-thirds of that volume went to home consumption, with the remaining 30 percent going to movie theaters, sports arenas (like the Rose Bowl, no doubt!) and other venues.

Origin of Popcorn

Popcorn goes back a long way, and could be the most ancient of snack foods. Consider this: The four oldest varieties of maize still growing in Mexico (its most likely birthplace) just happen to be popcorns. Spaniards exploring 16th century Central and South America observed Native Americans using popcorn in their ceremonies and regular diet time and time again. Some Native American cultures produced special pottery for popping popcorn, while others just skewered ears or oiled them and laid them beside a fire to pop. The first Thanksgiving’s menu is said to have included several bags of pre-popped corn, courtesy of Quadequina, Massasoit’s brother.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, famous for her Little House books, recorded her future husband’s 9-year-old musings on popcorn in Farmer Boy, including how he liked to combine it with milk because he believed these were the only two things in the world that can share the exact same space. Oh, by the way, this does work. You really can add an entire mug of popped corn into a full mug of milk one kernel at a time, and never spill a drop!

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