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Making popcorn pop. December 5, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. A big bowl of hot, fresh-popped popcorn is just the thing on a cold day. Our friend Ben and I have a little air-popper, and we like to top our hot popcorn with butter, salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. (OFB likes melted butter, but I hate touching grease, so I use cold butter and make popcorn balls around each piece. No fuss, no muss!)

For all you calorie-conscious types who are screaming in horror, let me say that OFB and I never eat popcorn as a snack: It’s either lunch, often with an apple or tomato soup, or supper on a movies-at-home night. And nobody’s making you put butter or cheese on yours! One of our heroes, the famous homesteader Helen Nearing, served her popcorn (and her potatoes, etc.) plain, and memorably said that if someone wasn’t hungry enough to eat plain popcorn, they weren’t hungry enough to eat, period! 

For those who aren’t so Spartan, there are plenty of topping options. We find air-popped popcorn a bit too dry for our taste without butter, but if you pop yours in oil, you can skip the butter and try dried herbs like oregano, thyme, and basil; hot pepper flakes, powdered chipotle peppers, or chili powder for the hotheads; brewer’s yeast (we don’t quite get that one, but we believe it’s somehow supposed to taste cheesy); or cinnamon, curry powder, or garam masala. Of course, you can add any shredded cheese your heart desires, or the powdered cheeses you can get from health food stores and catalogues (they have powdered butter, too, which would certainly be less messy, but I confess I’ve never tried it). I’ve always thought that melting brown sugar in butter and pouring it over hot salted popcorn would produce a lovely caramel-corn effect, but have never tried it, either (too gooey).

However, the title of this post isn’t referring to making the flavor of popcorn “pop,” but to actually popping the kernels. As anyone knows who buys popcorn in bulk, as it ages, more and more kernels don’t pop when you heat them. That’s because it’s the moisture in the kernels that makes them pop, and they dry out as they age. And nothing’s more disappointing than seeing all those unpopped kernels in the bowl, or worse still, biting down on one. (I once overheard a dentist, speaking to his technician about a client who’d cracked a tooth, “I can’t believe these people eat popcorn!” Heaven forbid.)

Fortunately, there’s at least one surefire way to keep your popcorn popping, no matter how old it is: Keep it in an airtight jar, and add a few drops of water every couple of months, shaking the jar to distribute the water. Mind you, we’re talking about maybe five drops of water; you don’t want to flood your popcorn or it will mold. A few drops is just enough to increase the humidity in the jar and rehydrate the kernels to full poppability. 

I recently read of an even simpler method for keeping popcorn poppable. If memory serves, it was in a book about Tasha Tudor, the beloved children’s book author and illustrator and expert on early 19th-century life. Tasha said that the best place to keep popcorn was in the freezer, where it would stay perfectly fresh and always pop down to the last kernel. Sadly, this technique isn’t an option for me and our friend Ben, since our freezer is always ready to explode with things that actually must be kept frozen. But if you have some extra freezer space, try it and enjoy fully popped popcorn every time!

“Enjoy” is the operative word when it comes to popcorn. It’s stupid to make such a fun, delicious treat, then feel guilty about every mouthful. Instead, do as OFB and I do and eat it as a meal; eat a small bowl; choose low-cal toppings that you really like; eat it at the end of a day of vigorous outdoor activity (and share some with your popcorn-loving dog). But whatever you do, enjoy it, please! Try these tips to make it all pop. And if you have favorite toppings for popcorn (or techniques to keep it popping), we’d love to hear about them!

             ‘Til next time,




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