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Popcorn – A delight throughout the ages

Nathalie Taylor

Special to the Village News

Popcorn is "as old as the hills," or close. Archeologists in Peru have found fossil evidence of popcorn dating back as early as 4,700 BC. There is also evidence that the Pueblo Native Americans also popped corn about 1,000 years ago.

In modern times, Charles Cretors of Chicago invented the steam-powered popcorn maker in the 1890s, setting off America's obsession with the fluffy snack.

I guess you could say that Chicago is the birthplace of American popcorn, because in addition to Charles Cretors' invention, two brothers named Frederick and Louis Rueckheim sold popcorn topped with molasses at the Chicago World's Fair, in 1893. Caramel corn was born in Chicago that year and is still popular 129 years later.

This American delight now has its own holiday. Jan. 19 is National Popcorn Day.

Do other countries enjoy popcorn as much as we do? Not quite, because Americans are still the number one popcorn consumers. However, in other areas of the world, such as Japan, Canada, and most of Europe, people also enjoy popcorn.

Delicious and fun to eat, popcorn conjures up images of happy times. I have enjoyed popcorn at festivals, fairs, theaters, circuses, football games, and other events.

Kettle corn is a staple at most fairs. I can't leave our county fair without carting home a large bag of it. We eat a lot of it in the car, so only about half the bag actually makes it home.

The Disneyland Resort has at least 10 old-fashioned popcorn carts located throughout the two parks. Long lines to the carts prove that the snack is still popular.

In America, corn was popped on stove tops for many years. Then, there was a parade of various electric poppers, and finally, microwave popcorn was introduced. I buy Pop Secret microwave popcorn. It's easy to make and doesn't burn if you follow directions. It is not only a savory snack but has an aroma that lures other family members to the kitchen.

My mom, who was born in 1923, remembers making stove-top popcorn with her mother. The kernels were placed in a frying pan, along with cooking oil, and then covered. It was mom's job to slide the pan back and forth over the fire until the corn popped. It didn't ever burn, which might have been the result of mom's expert corn popping skills, or maybe just the watchful eye of her mother.

When I was a child, a brand called Jiffy Pop was popular. It was packaged in an aluminum foil pan with a long handle. The corn was popped on the stove-top; and it seemed to take forever. However, once the corn began to pop, the silver top would grow and grow until it was filled with popped corn. I was fascinated by the expanding silver top – it looked like it was an alien from outer space.

When I was growing up, we would take family vacations in our travel trailer, and Jiffy Pop was an integral part of our well-stocked trailer pantry. One evening, my mother was making Jiffy Pop on the trailer stovetop when something went terribly wrong. She shook and shook the pan, but the popcorn only partially popped, then it burned. The silver top burst open, and smoke began to rise from the pan. Mom dumped water on the burning popcorn, and then left it outside all night. I remember looking at the charred mess in the morning. The whole experience fascinated me and didn't even kill my love for popcorn.

Once I attempted to make a Christmas popcorn garland. I was about 15, and confident that I would be successful, but my confidence was dashed when too many pieces broke off before they made it to the garland. Only about half of the batch actually became part of the decoration, so it took quite a while to create a garland that was long enough to encircle the entire tree. That was the end of my popcorn-garland-making days.

So, I won't be making any more popcorn garlands, but I will continue to eat – and enjoy – popcorn! After all, I think it's a waste of good popcorn to use it on a Christmas garland anyway.


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