When it comes to popcorn I am a fanatic. I eat it sometimes for breakfast, for supper, when I’m upset, when I’m happy – I eat it just because. It is my comfort food.
Each year when we plant our garden we try something a little bit different. Last year our venture was pumpkins and they overtook us. This year we’d like to be in control, so popcorn it is.
As usual, before I dig into a project, I did a little research. This is what I learned:
– Homegrown popcorn will grow in any climate that sweet corn will. It tastes better, is fresher and has no chemicals like its counterparts in the supermarket. The disadvantage to homegrown is that you’ll probably never go back to store-bought!
– So, what makes popcorn “pop”? It all boils down to how much starch is stored in the center of the kernel. All varieties of corn such as sweet corn, field corn, etc. will pop to some degree but only regular popcorn kernels have enough starch to actually pop. Each kernel contains a small amount of water stored near the soft starch in the middle of the kernel. When the kernel is heated the water expands, pressing against the hard outer shell, or hull as it is called. When the center explodes the soft starch becomes inflated and bursts, turning the kernel inside out. Voila-popcorn!
– There is no such thing as “hulless” popcorn since all must have hulls to pop. Some varieties have less noticeable ones and the smaller the un-popped kernel, the less noticeable are the hulls.
– There are many varieties such as white, gold, maroon, black and about every color in between. Choice is just a matter of appearance and personal preference.
– There are basically two ways to dry popcorn. Ears may be left on the stalk and sun-dried or the kernels can be shelled and dried in an oven after the corn has reached its maturity date. If you store it on ears it takes up more space and you can only dry on warm, sunny days so it may take longer. For this reason, the preferred method is in the oven. After the stalk has dried for a couple months, husk and shell the ears and place the kernels in a large roasting pan such as a turkey roaster. Place the pan in a pre-heated 300* oven, turn the heat down to the lowest setting and dry for five hours then turn off the oven and leave in overnight. To see if it is “popping perfect” try a few kernels. If it pops poorly, it needs a little more drying time.
– The last thing I wanted to know is what the difference was between microwave popcorn and regular popcorn. Surprise – not a thing except the packages labeled “microwave” have added chemicals. Any popcorn can be microwaved by placing a few kernels in a brown paper bag or special popper made for the microwave.
OK, sounds like I am ready to try my hand this year. I am going for a white variety because the hulls are relatively small. My next problem is that the farmers who farm our ground rotate each year between soybeans and corn. Just our luck, this is the year for field corn. So, we are going to have to plant our popcorn either really late or early so it does not tassel the same time as the field corn to minimize cross-pollination.
I really can’t wait until it is time to harvest and dry it. We are already dreaming of those long winter nights when we can curl up with a cold glass of cider and a bowl of our own fresh-popped corn. Air-popped corn is a healthy snack after all, with only 30 calories per cup. With just a drizzle – or two, or three – of butter, it still rates up there as a feel-good food. Pop on!