A SHORT HISTORY OF POPCORN
Popcorn has been eaten as a snack in the United States for thousands of years—the oldest ears of popcorn to have been found are believed to be at least 4,000 years old. They were discovered in the Bat Cave of west-central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950, and ranged from smaller than a penny to about 2 inches in size.
Early Native Americans grew corn, which they called “mahiz” (which evolved into the more familiar “maize”), and they introduced it to the English who came to America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is believed that Native Americans discovered that corn kernels popped when thrown into a fire or hot sand.
Popcorn was not only an important food at the time, but was also used by Native Americans and Aztecs to make garlands worn by women at celebration dances.
After the introduction of the moldboard plow in the mid-1800s, corn growing became more widespread and led to an increase in the popularity of popping corn
as a recreational activity. Popcorn was sold at carnivals and circuses, as well as in the grocery stores. With the invention of “talking pictures,” movie theaters initially
refused to sell popcorn because it was too messy, so their customers took in their own popcorn, purchased from street vendors. The theaters soon caught on
and introduced their own concession stands to provide the snack.
During the Great Depression, popcorn was one of the few luxuries that the average man in the street could afford, being relatively cheap at five or ten cents a bag. While many other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived. When the United States entered World War II, sugar was sent overseas for U.S. troops, so candy became scarce, and Americans ate three times as much popcorn as usual. Later, as television became popular, there was a small slump in popcorn consumption, as Americans deserted the movie theaters to stay home in front of the TV; but soon, snacking while watching television increased the consumption of popcorn again.
The popularity of this snack has grown and grown, and today it is one of America’s most enduring and popular snacks. People of all ages love popcorn, and the statistics
prove it: Americans consume about 17 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year.
To pop the corn on the stovetop, you will need a covered saucepan and an oil with a high smoke point. The best ones to use are canola, olive, coconut, peanut,
or grapeseed. Do not use butter as it may burn.
3 tablespoons oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
A 3-quart saucepan is a good size for 1/3 cup kernels.
Add the oil to the pan and set it on medium-high heat.
Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil and cover the pan. When the kernels pop, add the rest of the 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels in an even layer. Sprinkle with salt.
Cover, remove from heat, and count 30 seconds. This step first heats the oil to the right temperature, and waiting 30 seconds brings all of the other kernels to a
near-popping temperature, so that when they are put back on the heat, they all pop at about the same time.
Return the pan to the heat. The popcorn should begin popping soon, and all at once. Once the popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and
forth over the burner. Try to keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam from the popcorn release (the popcorn will be drier and crisper). Once the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat, remove the lid, and pour the popcorn immediately into a bowl.
With this method, nearly all of the kernels should pop, and none should burn.
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