And then something goes pop

by Lorin Michel Sunday, September 18, 2011 9:57 PM

Every Sunday we make a nice breakfast. It’s our one morning of the week when we truly relax, lounging as we read the paper and have some coffee, usually in bed. Then we segue into the kitchen. While sometimes we have waffles and rarely, pancakes, our go-to is usually some sort of egg creation. Often an omelet made with whatever I have in the vegetable drawer. Mushrooms, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, cheese of all sorts. Sometimes I just do a skillet scramble; over-easy when I have nothing to scramble. I make turkey bacon. Kevin scoops out cantaloupe or honey dew melon, makes more coffee. Sometimes we have a bloody mary. We rarely have toast or bagels. Which means that about two hours later both of us are back in the kitchen scrounging for a snack. There’s something about eggs and turkey bacon that doesn’t seem to stay around very long. It’s kind of like Chinese food, a phenomenon I’ve never really understood. How can you eat an entire meal and have it virtually disappear from its energy making duties so quickly?

Many times, the kitchen cabinets on a Sunday afternoon are relatively barren. I haven’t necessarily been to the store so we don’t have a lot of stuff on which to nibble. Even when I have been to the store we rarely have the kinds of things most people like to nibble on, like chips. The fridge isn’t much better. There’s cheese, of course. Fruit usually. Sometimes celery. Then we can combine the fridge with the cabinets by pulling out the peanut butter.

There is, however, almost always popcorn. It has become our go-to Sunday afternoon snack, and I don’t even necessarily like popcorn unless I’m in a movie theatre. In fact, once in a while, we’ll actually drive to a theatre to buy a tub to have for our snack. Usually, though, we pull out the air-popper and a big bowl, pour in the corn and turn on the whir. Then we wait. There is swirl and noise as each kernel hits the aluminum side of the popper. The heat rises; we can feel it oozing off the top. We peer over the edge, down into the tiny space where the corn is dancing, waiting for that first pop. Because once the first pop happens, the cacophony begins as each kernel explodes into something edible, versus something that will break teeth.

Corn has been popped longer than it has been consumed on the cob, frozen or creamed. The earliest popcorn was probably popped some 4,000 years ago, a bit of history discovered in the caves of New Mexico. In 1519, Hernán Cortés invaded Mexico to conquer the Aztecs and discovered popcorn being used for decoration on headdresses, necklaces and ornaments especially on the their gods. He wrote: "They scattered before him parched corn, called momochitl, a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower; they said these were hailstones given to the god of water.” The Peruvian Indians called it pisancalla. We are the ones who dubbed it popcorn, a cheap, non-fattening snack that is the soul of movie concessions. In fact, popcorn was introduced into movie theatres in the 1920s because it was inexpensive, just five cents a bag. Movie theatres that didn’t sell popcorn actually saw their attendance drop. When TV became popular, popcorn sales dropped, until people discovered they could pop it at home and watch television with a big bowl on their lap.

Americans currently eat about 17 billion quarts of popped corn every year with the average American eating 54 quarts. I’m fairly confident that we don’t eat nearly that much, largely because we don’t have popcorn every week and we rarely go to the movies.

Corn can be popped in oil or air. The Chinese pour corn into a large cast-iron canister ­– a popcorn hammer – that is then sealed with a heavy lid and slowly turned over a curbside fire like a rotisserie. When a pressure gauge reaches a certain level, it is removed from the fire, a large canvas sack is put over the lid, and the seal is released. With a huge boom, all of the popcorn explodes at once and is poured into the sack. That’s something I’d like to experience – a corn explosion that would give whole new meaning to the word popcorn. Imagine.

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Of course, popcorn is a special kind of corn. You can’t buy an ear in the grocery store and expect to throw it into your air-popper. It’s a type of maize grown in Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. Its hull is thicker, allowing pressure to build outside without permeating the inside. When it pops, starch is what spills out and looks like, well, popcorn, like a snowflake or a mushroom. And even though it’s starch, when popped in an air-popper, like we use, it’s a little rubbery, a little like cardboard. That’s probably because ultimately it’s not bad for us, at only about 31 calories per cup.

But it’s also probably why I miss chips and dip.

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Comments (1) -

9/19/2011 10:43:16 AM #

This blog took a turn for me because I could have sworn the title was: "And then something goes poop."

Bobbi Jankovich United States

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