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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Parched Corn on a Hot Shovel?

Popcorn! Yep, October is still Popcorn Month. Popcorn has been getting some bad press these days and rightfully so, I suppose. There have been many reports about the effects of Diacetyl in microwave popcorn so I'm listing some resources later where you can read them for yourself if you choose.

When I had a cookbook store about 10 years ago, we popped popcorn in an old fashioned popcorn machine on wheels. Everyday after school, the kids would stop in and we would give out free popcorn. It was the best time of the day. The wafting aroma, the giggling children, the memories. Every now and again, I run into some of the kids in the local grocery store. It's funny, they don't call me the cookbook lady, they call me the Popcorn Lady:) They remember.

Charles Cretors of Chicago invented the popcorn popping machine, or at least the business of popping corn. (He also invented the first popcorn wagon in 1919. It was the first self-propelled popcorn wagon ever made and was built on a Model T Ford chassis. A-Maizing!) His popcorn popping machine was a small steam engine powered machine "that popped, seasoned, and kept freshly popped corn warm—uniformly—for the first time ever." Before Cretor's discovery, popcorn vendors popped corn by holding wire baskets over an open flame, which usually produced dry, burnt popcorn. Yuck, I bet there were many "old maids" too. In the good old days of theaters and popcorn wagons it wasn't until around the 1920's that popcorn became a box office hit This was partly due to the invention of first electric popcorn machine by Charles T. Manley. Enterprising popcorn sellers who had been hawking popcorn since probably the 1840's were now in competition with the local nickelodeons. Popcorn sales boomed during World War II. mainly because of sugar rationing. Unlike candy, popcorn was inexpensive, easy to conger up and pleasantly satisfying. The War Production Board even claimed it was healthy. After the war, popcorn entered the television arena. I can still remember those "frying pans" of popcorn on Sunday night watching Ed Sullivan.

Wrede Smith, whose family has been making Jolly Time Pop Corn since 1914 has wonderful recollections of popcorn vendors with their popcorn wagons decorating Main Street USA. As a matter of fact, I just dug out a small promotional cook booklet from Jolly Time Popcorn. It's undated, but, I'm guessing it's from the 50's. I'd like to share their recipe for Chocolate Coated Pop Corn with you.

Chocolate Coated Pop Corn
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup corn syrup
3 tbs. butter or margarine
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 qts. popped Jolly Time Popcorn

Combine sugar, water, and corn syrup. Cook for 5 minutes; add butter and chocolate. Cook until a small portion tested in cold water stiffens and cracks. Pour over the popped corn. Stir until mixture is well distributed and turns sugary.

Although this little booklet is only 8 pages, it sure does have some interesting recipes. If I list one that makes you feel all fuzzy all over, let me know.

  • Pop corn on the Cob-cute:)
  • Chocolate popcorn pudding
  • Popcorn Brittle
  • Caramel Corn
  • Marshmallow Popcorn Balls
  • Carnival Corn-"Cracker Jack Like"
  • New England Pop Corn Treat-flavored with Vermont Maple Syrup
  • Popcorn Candy
  • Popcorn Cookies
  • Popcorn Fruit Squares
  • Popcorn Cake

A kernel for you: Use Popcorn Balls for a holder for toothpick skewers on which you've put party hors d'ouvres

Rumor Has It:
  1. The world's largest popcorn ball weighed 2,000 pounds. If you decide to make these treats for Halloween, check out your local craft store for colored plastic wrap to wrap them.
  2. Frederick William and Louis Rueckheim used Cretor's peanut roaster-popcorn machine at their Chicago World's Fair popcorn stand. They mixed popcorn with peanuts covered in molasses which they named Cracker Jack.

We don't usually make popcorn at our house anymore but, after looking through my beloved cookbooks and writing this post, I might have to change that with my next arrival of Netflix. Below I am also including some recipe links. If you don't have a popcorn popper, the Jolly Time recipe book suggests using a pressure cooker without the weigh gasket. With the holidays soon approaching, a popcorn popper may make a perfect gift. I found 227 search results for popcorn makers at epinions. My son actually has two popcorn making machines which he fires up on polka night. One of his is made by Wabash Valley Farms. They have a charming history and seem to get good reviews on their Old Fashioned Popcorn Maker.

Resources: