Ancient and delicious, popcorn is one of the stars during October.
The Popcorn Board says October is National Popcorn Month and gives these instructions on popping corn without the convenience of the microwave oven.
To pop popcorn on a range-top, assemble the following:
‰3- to 4-quart pan with a loose lid that allows steam to escape
‰At least enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan, one kernel deep
‰1⁄3 cup of oil for every cup of kernels (Don’t use butter!)
Heat the oil to 400 to 460 degrees (if the oil smokes, it is too hot). Test the oil on a couple of kernels. When they pop, add the rest of the popcorn, cover the pan and shake to evenly spread the oil. When the popping begins to slow, remove the pan from the stove-top. The heated oil will still pop the remaining kernels.
Presalting kernels toughens popcorn, so salt the popcorn after it has been popped — or skip salt altogether and add salt-free spices.
General measure rule: One ounce of unpopped popcorn equals a quart popped.
Saving ‘Old Maids’
“Old Maids” is a term for kernels that fail to pop and are often found at the bottom of the popcorn bowl. They can, however, be rejuvenated. The water in kernels is what causes popcorn to pop, so all you need to do is rehydrate the dried kernels.
David Woodside, author of “What Makes Popcorn Pop?,” suggests filling “a one-quart jar three-quarters full of popcorn and adding one tablespoon of water. Cover the jar with an airtight lid and give it a few good shakes every few minutes until the popcorn has absorbed all the water. Store the jar in a cool place.”
Woodside says in two or three days you can test-pop a batch of kernels. If you still get old maids, add a few more drops of water to the jar, shake it, and let it sit for a few more days.
Without moisture — 13.5 percent to 14 percent per kernel is needed — popcorn can’t pop. That’s why it’s important to store popcorn correctly. An entire percentage of moisture can be lost if your kernels are left uncovered on a hot day. And though that may not sound like a lot, it adds up. A loss of 3 percent can render popcorn unpoppable. And even a 1 percent drop in moisture will harm the quality of your kernels.
So what’s the best way to store popcorn? Airtight containers — plastic or glass — are your best bet to avoid moisture loss, especially when stored in a cool place like a cupboard. Avoid the refrigerator. Some say the cold storage makes the popcorn taste better, but many refrigerators contain little moisture and can dry out kernels.
To make your popcorn different, try spicing it up with garlic salt, Parmesan cheese, thyme, cumin, oregano, taco seasoning mix, lemon pepper, Italian herbs mixed together like oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme and crushed rosemary, or French herbs, like marjoram, thyme, summer savory, basil, rosemary, sage and fennel. Sweeten it up with cinnamon, brown sugar and nutmeg.
‰Americans consume some 16 billion quarts of this whole grain, good-for-you treat. That’s 51 quarts per man, woman and child.
‰Compared to most snack foods, popcorn is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup. Oil-popped is only 55 per cup.
‰Popcorn is a type of maize (or corn), a member of the grass family, and is scientifically known as Zea mays everta.
‰Of the six types of maize/corn — pod, sweet, flour, dent, flint and popcorn — only popcorn pops.
‰Popcorn is a whole grain. It is made up of three components: the germ, endosperm and pericarp (also know as the hull).
‰Popcorn needs between 13.5 to 14 percent moisture to pop.
‰Popcorn differs from other types of maize/corn in that is has a thicker pericarp/hull. The hull allows pressure from the heated water to build and eventually bursts open. The inside starch becomes gelatinous while being heated; when the hull bursts, the gelatinized starch spills out and cools, giving it its familiar popcorn shape.
‰Most U.S. popcorn is grown in the Midwest, primarily in Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri.
‰Many believe the acres of corn they see in the Midwest during growing season could be picked and eaten for dinner, or dried and popped. In fact, those acres are typically field corn, which is used largely for livestock feed, and differs from sweet corn and popcorn.
‰The peak period for popcorn sales for home consumption is in the fall.
‰Most popcorn comes in two basic shapes when it’s popped: snowflake and mushroom. Snowflake is used in movie theaters and ballparks because it looks and pops bigger. Mushroom is used for candy confections because it doesn’t crumble.
‰Popping popcorn is one of the main uses for microwave ovens. Most microwave ovens have a “popcorn” control button.
‰“Popability” is popcorn lingo that refers to the percentage of kernels that pop.
‰There is no such thing as “hull-less” popcorn. All popcorn needs a hull in order to pop. Some varieties of popcorn have been bred so the hull shatters upon popping, making it appear to be hull-less.
‰How high popcorn kernels can pop? Up to 3 feet in the air.
‰The world’s largest popcorn ball was created by volunteers in Sac City, Iowa, in February 2009. It weighed 5,000 pounds, was more than 8 feet tall and measured 28.8 feet in circumference.
‰If you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles, you would need more than 352,028,160 popped kernels.
SPOOKY POPCORN CAKE POPS
5 cups popped popcorn
1⁄2 (11.5 ounce) store-bought pound cake
3⁄4 cup canned vanilla frosting
8 ounces candy melts (assorted colors) for coating*
1⁄2 teaspoon vegetable oil
18 lollipop sticks
Decorations for cake pops: miniature chocolate chips, blue and red food gel, miniature chewy chocolate candies, food safe markers
Process popcorn in food processor until coarsely chopped.
Crumble cake into large bowl. Add popcorn and frosting, stirring with fork until mixture is evenly moistened.
Form mixture evenly into 18 balls. For ghosts, roll into an elongated triangle creating a distinct head and body.
Place on waxed paper-lined baking sheet; freeze 20 minutes.
Melt candy melts according to package directions. If using white, stir in vegetable oil. Color as desired using candy color.
Remove popcorn cake balls from freezer. Dip tips of lollipop sticks into candy melts; insert no more than halfway into center of balls. Let sit 3 minutes until set.
Dip one ball into melted candy melts to cover completely. Gently tap stick against side of bowl so excess melts drips off. Immediately decorate as desired (candy melts harden quickly). **
Poke sticks into Styrofoam block to dry completely.
**To decorate: Use white candy melts for ghost (pumpkins/orange, one-eyed purple monsters/purple); miniature chocolate chips for eyes and mouth; shape small piece of chewy chocolate candy for pumpkin stem and attach with candy melt; spread melted white candy melts in center of ball to create monster eye, use blue gel for iris, red gel for veins.
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1⁄2 cup corn syrup
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
10 cups freshly popped popcorn
1 package (10 1⁄2 oz.) miniature marshmallows
2 cups mini graham cookies (teddy bears)
1 cup chocolate chips
Combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in medium saucepan.
Cook over high heat for 5 minutes; remove from heat and stir in baking soda.
Combine popcorn and marshmallows in large bowl.
Pour sugar mixture over popcorn to coat.
Gently stir in graham cookies and chocolate chips.
Spread mixture evenly into greased 15-by-10-inch pan.
Let cool completely. Break into pieces.
Store in an airtight container.
While I don’t claim to be an expert cook, I do like to cook and love to eat. Readers are encouraged to send questions about food and cooking; I’ll try to find the answers. Also, if you’re looking for a specific recipe, send your request, or if you can offer a recipe to someone looking for something specific, please send email to email@example.com.