December 23, 2012

Popcorn good for trees and treats


Yes, one was shattered in transit, and I spent many hours gathering up all the tiny shards and gluing it back together. It was a true labor of love.

I asked friends and relatives to give me their earliest memories of popcorn. Like me, Kaye recalled her family having one of those rectangular tin pans with a long wire handle and a screen that could be slid over top of the popping corn. It was an honor to be designated the “shaker.” Other friends remembered using an iron “spider,” as the skillet or frying pan was called, with an old, battered top, and popping the corn over a wood stove.

Then came the air poppers, pre-packaged corn with the expanding aluminum top, the advent of the microwave and all the modern ways to create a delicious bowl of popcorn in 90-seconds or less.

Corn has been popped for thousands of years in many parts of the world. Columbus found Native Americans doing it when he arrive in the New World.

I remember seeing mobile street-corner popcorn vendors in New York City 70 years ago. Long before that, a guy named Charles Cretors invented a steam popcorn machine and exhibited it at the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Since it was cheap, Americans ate a lot of it during the Great Depression and World War II — when I was a youngster.

The Karmelkorn store in Malone was a favorite teenager hangout when I was in high school, and I loved that special taste along with that of the molasses-flavored Cracker Jacks, which also premiered at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Why does popcorn pop? Good question. The hull is tough and moisture-proof. The inside of the kernel contains a dense, starchy material with moisture and some oil. When you heat it, you create something akin to a pressure-cooker, and the steam finally bursts through, giving you that nice, puffy stuff we all know and love.

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