Popcorn. One whiff and you have to have some.
It goes hand-in-hand with ball games, parties and movies.
"Popcorn goes back thousands of years," said Wendy Boersema Rappel of the Popcorn Board, a nonprofit council that promotes American-grown popcorn. "Kernels found in bat caves in New Mexico in the 1950s were carbon-dated to be 4,500 to 6,000 years old. Kernels found in ancient burial sites in Peru were found to be 1,000 years old. The discoverers rehydrated a few of the Peru kernels — and they popped!"
While there are no records to verify it, consuming popcorn as a food probably goes back to the Native Americans, who then introduced it to the colonists. "It's assumed it was part of the Native American culture," Boersema Rappel said, adding it gained popularity in the 1800s. "It was a fun, fascinating food for that time period — it exploded and you got to eat it. People wanted to try it. Some of the first cookbooks [from the 1850s and 1860s] have recipes how to make popcorn."
Charles Cretors is credited with literally bringing popcorn to the masses in the streets. Cretors converted a peanut roasting machine and adapted it, allowing popcorn to be cooked in oil and sold by street vendors. Cretors introduced his new popcorn wagon at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. And, with the advent of movies, a made-in-heaven match was made ...
Today, 13 billion quarts of popcorn are consumed in the United States annually; that turns out to be 42 quarts per person. The top two popcorn producing states are Illinois and Nebraska, Boersema Rappel said. Popcorn is also grown in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan and Missouri. It is possible to grow popcorn in a home garden in New England, Boersema Rappel said, "but make sure it doesn't cross-pollinate with any sweet corn or feed corn," she advised. "Keep them separate and far apart in the garden."
Boersema Rappel said there is no best way to pop popcorn. "It can be geared to different lifestyles and dietary restrictions," she said. "Air poppers are good because they use only the popcorn, there's no added calories or fat."
Popping it on the stovetop is simple, she said, adding any basic vegetable oil may be used, including olive oil, which she said some people use for the taste it gives the popped corn. "But, whatever you do, don't use butter. Butter will burn, she warned.
Nutrition-wise, you can't beat popcorn, Boersema Rappel said. "It's whole-grain, which everyone needs; it contains fiber and is sugar-free and naturally low in fat and calories. It's non-GMO, there are no artificial additives, it's gluten-free. It's perfect for in between-meal snacking. A cup of air-popped popcorn has only 30 calories; but of course, who can eat just one cup?" she added, with a laugh.
"These days, we need fun," she said. "There are a lot of serious things going on. It's good to have something fun to do with family and friends, like a movie night with popcorn. Especially on a long, dark winter day."
When the Popcorn Board develops recipes, Boersema Rappel said staff members try them — "and they're all delicious and crazy good!" She said one of her favorite ways to eat popcorn is to simply pop it in oil and then add popcorn salt, which is a very fine salt. "When you want something quick and sweet, cut back on the salt and add a good pinch or two of sugar. When you first put it in your mouth, you think of salty, and then you think, ooh, sweet. It's just enough to satisfy your sweet tooth."
She also suggested sprinkling nutritional yeast over oil-popped popcorn when it first comes off the stove. "It has a cheesy flavor. Vegetarians use it as a substitute for cheese. It's a nice trick and is really yummy."
Boersema Rappel shared some of her favorites from the Popcorn Board's vast collection on its web site, www.popcorn.org, adding, 'They aren't that many that aren't good!"
Cheesy pepperoni popcorn
Yield: 6-8 servings (1 cup each)
12 cups air-popped popcorn
3 4 cup turkey pepperoni, cut into bite-size bits
Olive-oil cooking spray
1 4 cup nonfat parmesan cheese
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 4 tsp. dried oregano
1 4 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
1 4 tsp. dried basil leaves
1/8 tsp. dried sage
Black pepper, to taste
Combine Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, oregano, marjoram, basil, sage, and pepper in a small bowl; mix well. Place cooked popcorn and turkey pepperoni in a large bowl; spray lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle popcorn and pepperoni with cheese mixture and toss to coat evenly.
Yield: 2 Quarts
8 cups popped popcorn
6 slices thick-cut bacon
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
8 cups popped popcorn
2/3 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon maple extract
Preheat oven to 400F. Line jellyroll pan with foil. Place wire rack in pan. Arrange bacon in single layer on rack. Bake 15 minutes until ends of bacon start to curl.
Remove and reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings. Brush bacon with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup; bake 15 minutes until browned. Cool then coarsely chop bacon.
Combine popcorn, pecans and cranberries in large bowl.
Combine butter, black pepper, maple extract, remaining 2 tablespoons maple syrup and reserved bacon drippings. Cook over low heat until butter is melted. Drizzle over popcorn mixture and mix thoroughly.
Spread popcorn mixture in jellyroll or roasting pan.
Bake 5 minutes. Toss in bacon pieces. Serve warm.
Note: Boersema Rappel recommended using a good quality bacon.
Coconut curry cashew popcorn
Yield: 10 cups
Preparation: 45 minutes
10 cups popped popcorn
2 cups cashews
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place popcorn, cashews and coconut in a large bowl; set aside.
Heat butter, sugar and honey in a medium saucepan. Stir mixture over medium heat until it begins to boil. Boil 2 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in curry powder and baking soda (mixture will foam).
Pour syrup over popcorn mixture in bowl and stir until evenly coated. Pour mixture onto a large, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan lined with foil and sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake 30 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. Stir mixture a few times as it cools on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container.