[AB looks at the Movie Poster] Although popcorn has
always held a special place in the pantheon of American pop culture [he
laughs at his own punt] ... heh heh ...
POPCORN VENDER: Popcorn, get your popcorn.
... truth is, a lot of that culture is a complete fabrication.
PV: Hot, fresh, popcorn.
[as AB walks away from the movie
theater, we can wee the marquee]
DAWN OF THE KERNAL [sic]
When the heat becomes EXTREME, the kernals [sic] will begin to POP
For instance, movie theatres have not always sold the stuff.
PV: Ah, yeah. In the old days, theatre owners used to rent space outside their
places to local popcorn vendors, who used to move their carts around the city.
AB: Yeah. It wasn't until the Depression when a five-cent bag of popcorn seemed like an affordable luxury, that movie theatres got wise and started popping their own.
PV: Today, a vast majority of the theatre's profits comes from popcorn. And here's another myth; you know that first Thanksgiving? There was no popcorn.
AB: Uh uh. Our only reliable account of that event, a 1622 book, called "Mort's Relation". Old man Mort, he never even mentioned the stuff.
PV: In fact, popcorn didn't become popular in the eastern United States, until 19th ...
AB & PV: ... century whalers brought it back from Chile.
AB: That's right. Now, in the American southwest ...
PV: Ahh, that's another story.
AB: [turns to look at the popcorn salesman, and thinks he recognizes him as The Dungeon Master] You look really familiar to me.
PV: Oh yeah? Wait 'till you see the next scene. Whaaaaa ... [they exit]
GUESTS: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist
[AB spelunks down a cave wall a la the TV show, "Batman" from the 1960's] Welcome to Bat Cave, Catron County, New Mexico.
These caverns once housed an ancient agrarian society who were heavily dependent
upon maize for their nutrition. Because of the cool, dry microclimate here,
these caverns are a fantastic place to find remains of ancient strains of maize.
DEB DUCHON: [DD sticks her head out of a hole in the side of the wall] You know, Alton, scientists have been working here for about 50 years, and they found corn tassels, and corn husks, and even little tiny ears of ancient popcorn still on the cob.
[to us] Did you think about a nutritional anthropologist, because I know I wasn't thinking about a nutritional anthropologist?
DD: Well, today, I'm not a nutritional anthropologist. Today, I am an archeo-ethnobotanist.
AB: Oh yeah?
AB: Well, what are you doing here?
[the camera tilts 90° to reveal that AB was really walking on the floor, he sits down next to DD]
DD: I'm working. What are you doing here, besides trampling all over my dig?
AB: Well, sorry. I was looking for some thousand-year-old popcorn.
DD: Oh, well just look around, 'cause this place is full of it. And it still pops, too. All you have to do is soak it in a little water, and let it go.
DD: But it's an ancient form of Zia maize, but the kernels are so hard, the only way for people to get at the nutrition was to pop it open.
AB: Wow, well, tell me something. How did the Meso-Americans pop it, when they weren't known for using fat as a cooking medium?
DD: [reaches down and pulls up a bowl of ... ] Sand.
DD: Sand. You put the kernels in the three-legged pot full of sand. It was placed on the fire. And then when the sand got hot enough, the kernels would pop up to the surface.
AB: Cool. I wonder who thought of that?
DD: Well, probably an accidental discovery. But I can imagine that back in the old days sitting around the campfire at night, that popping popcorn could have been a form of entertainment.
AB: Too bad they didn't have any butter.
DD: Well, they probably pounded it with water, into some sort of a gruel or mush.
AB: Wow, that sounds nutritious.
DD: Very nourishing.
AB: Tell me something, Deb. I don't see any bats. I don't smell any bats. Why do they call this "bat cave"?
BATMAN: [appears out of the hole] Ah, Deborah, there you are ... and with the popcorn. Excellent. We need you, back in the bat-kitchen. [acknowledges AB] Citizen. [disappears below]
DD: Sorry, Alton, gotta go. The boys need me.
AB: Yeah, I'd bet they do. [to himself] Who writes this stuff? [the camera re-tilts and AB "climbs" back up to the surface]
The next time you set out to purchase popcorn, consider the criteria of the big popcorn growers. Yield per acre, size of popped kernel, and number of unpopped kernels in a batch. What about flavor and texture? Well, believe it or not, they don't really enter the equation, which, if you ask me, is a darn good reason to seek out the old varieties which come in two basic shapes. There are the pearls which are smooth and round, and rice which are kind of pointy.
Yield Per Acre
Size of Popped Kernel
Number of Unpopped Kernels
Now here we have Pink Diamond, Purple Amethyst, Baby Black Pearl, Southwest Gold, Baby Blue Sapphire, Baby Pearl, Red Ruby, Baby Yellow Topaz, Blue Sapphire, Petit Princess Amber. Now each one of these has a distinct flavor and texture and a distinct popped size. But don't be deceived by the color. Except for the white varieties, which will always pop up white, they're all yellow deep down where it counts.
[AB stands next to a pot on a burner] Why is popcorn our only exploding food? Well, let's ponder some of the parts involved.
|First, there is the pericarp, okay? Now all grains have this hard outer shell. But in the case of popcorn, the pericarp is unusually hard. And it's unique in the fact that it can absorb and radiate high amounts of heat to the interior of the kernel without actually burning.||Pericap [arrow points to the pot]|
|All grains also have an interior fuel tank, or endosperm, composed of two different kinds of starch, both hard and soft. Popcorn, however, possesses an unusually high percent of the hard type of starch, okay?||Endosperm [arrow points to packing peanuts that he now dumps into the pot]|
[pouring water into the pot] Now, proper detonation requires between 13 and 15 percent water, which in this case, is the actual explosive agent. Now, all we have to do is seal this thing up tight.
At movie theatres in South America, people eat
roasted ants instead of popcorn.
[attaches clamps onto the pot lid] There, that ought to stay put. And now we apply ze heat! There. [turns on the burner]
|Now as the water inside boils, it turns into steam, right? And that means it increases in volume by a factor of, I don't know, 40 or 50, and that applies a huge amount of pressure on the inside of the kernel. Now most varieties of maize are loaded with soft starch which can't possibly hold that much pressure. Popcorn, being loaded with hard starch, can. So right now, the pressure is building and building. Eventually, the steam will combine with the starch to create something kind of like lava. When the pressure reaches a critical point, hee hee, well, that's going to be fun. [the pot stretches and explodes]||
The pericarp ruptures, spewing hot liquid starch in
all directions. As the pressure is released, the corn/lava begins to cool and
set, into this rather curious shape [camera pulls out to show that AB is lying
under a huge model of a popped kernel]. Now if anyone out there has a phone, I'd
appreciate it if you would dial 911 and I'll just wait here.
GUESTS: Old Maid
Here is another thing that makes popcorn specifically American. It was greatly
popularized after The Civil War by the development and marketing of popcorn
poppers. If that's not an American concept, I don't know what is.
Now, back then, poppers were hearth-based appliances; that is, they were meant to be used over a fire. Now the earliest models were essentially just wire mesh boxes, with wooden handles. There was no medium to evenly move heat into the kernels, so this method takes forever, and there are a lot of burnt pieces and loads of "old maids"
OLD MAID: [appears]
OM: [hits AB and leaves]
Okay, fine, from now on, we'll call them "little orphans".
LO: [hits AB and leaves]
AB: Hey! What the ...
The next development was something I like to call "The Bed Warmer Popper". The reason it was an advancement? A solid bottom which means that you could actually pop with a little bit of fat. The problem is the bottom was way too wide, so you still ended up with a lot of burning, and a lot of, well, how shall I say, bad kernels?
BAD COLONEL: Perhaps you could use some time in the cooler.
AB: [offers] Popcorn?
GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist
W: [is testing popcorn poppers and wearing ear protection]
AB: W, what's popping?
AB: What's popping?
W: [hands AB a pair of headphones] Put these on!
AB: Are you serious?
W: Regulations. [begins to talk to AB but we can't hear what she's saying]
[to himself, as "W" is speaking] Now these things are just ridiculous. Hey wait a second. I can't hear a word she says. This could be kind of fun. I'll go along, kind of pretend.
W: [as AB removes the headphones we hear her] ... and manual, with oil resev ...
Oh yeah, it's much better with them on. Hmm, I don't know what she's saying. Something about popcorn poppers.
W: [taps AB on the shoulder]
What? Oh, better
keep up the charade. Uh hmm. Yes, eat some popcorn; that's a good idea. Yuk, it
doesn't have any salt on it. It's retched. [looks at a popper with a rotating
bar on a flat pan] Oh, now that's just silly. Even if all the kernels popped,
steam condenses on the dome and runs back on the corn. Even if it worked
perfectly, who'd want such a gigantic unitasker hanging around the kitchen?
Well, not me.
Oooh, sweet. It's one of those movie-theatre models. Yeah, there's a little thing that rotates up top, and all the popcorn pops, and then you dump it out, and the warming lights keep it nice and toasty.
[looks at "W", not hearing her speak] Blah, blah, blah. I wonder how much this thing costs ...
W: [AB has temporarily removed his headphones] ... somewhere from a thousand dollars. So, cost ...
[puts the headphones back on] Ewww. I like popcorn. But I don't like popcorn that much. [turns to another popper] Hmm, maybe this air pop model is not so bad. The problem is, is without any fat inside, there's no way for the salt to stick, and popcorn without salt is, well, packing material. This bowl, however, that could be useful. Think I'll just slip out.
If my calculations are correct, each and every one of us in possession of a heavy-gauge—say, 18/10 stainless steel bowl in the six-quart range—already have the perfect corn popper in hand. Behold, the shape. The oil and unpopped kernels pool at the bottom, where the heat is the greatest, while popped kernels rise up the side, away from the heat, so that they don't burn. And of course, once the popping is concluded, and the vessel is allowed to briefly cool, it can be used as a serving platform.
S = SLOPE \
VESSEL COMPOSITION = 18/10
|Now, in order for kernels to pop to their fullest, relatively high heat must be evenly applied. Now sand may have worked for the early Americans, but I believe that oil is the best everyday cooking medium for this job. Say, three tablespoons of a neutral oil, like peanut oil, would be my top medium of choice.||3 Tbs. Peanut Oil|
Now as for the kernels themselves, well, let's see what I'm in the mood for
Let's see, I think ... Ah, Yellow Topaz. Half a cup should do the trick. Mmmm.
|1/2 Cup Popcorn|
Now I am all about letting the flavor of the kernel come through. But let's face it, there are few things on Earth that you can put in your mouth more disappointing than saltless popcorn. Now I'll admit, Kosher salt is usually my rock of choice. But in the case of popcorn, I find that the mere microscopic granules of popcorn salt, or pickling salt, are better at adhering to the nooks and crannies of the popcorn during the pop process. So, do we need to buy some? No, we never buy what we can make.
The average American consumes 63 quarts of popcorn a year.
One cup of Kosher salt goes into our food processor. And I think about 10
three-second pulses should perfectly smash this, or pulverize it rather, into
the correct consistency. It's important that you don't just let the machine run
because the salt would act too much like a fluid. We want to really pulverize
it. How many is that? That's got to be ten. Okay. There'll be a lot of powder;
be careful. And just get that out onto a flexible mat. It'll make it easier for
delivery later. There we go.
Now as far as vessels go, I am a big fan of snap-on perforated lids. Snapping on is a lot easier than screwing on. I like this particular model, because it comes with several different top options, but we'll stick with the small one for this. So, we load thusly.
Now a lot of folks like to put rice inside finely granulated salt in order to keep it from clumping because of humidity. The truth is, the rice doesn't actually absorb any of the humidity. If it did, you'd be able to cook a pot of rice just by setting it out in the rainforest for a couple of days. What it really does is provide physical agitation. The problem with rice is, as it breaks and cracks, it can actually jam up the little holes. So, I say skip the rice altogether and use a little bit of [raw] popcorn, which I've got plenty of here. We'll take about a teaspoon, add to the salt, give it a shake, and we are good to go.
Salt will penetrate much better if it is applied to the kernels before the popping.
|1/2 tsp. Salt|
Place a piece of aluminum foil on top of the bowl, and now punch a few
holes in that to let steam out. Believe it or not, it'll make a huge
difference. Medium flame goes on, grab yourself a pair of tongs, and get to
shaking. Now this is what I call "dancing the popcorn dance". Forty-five
seconds to a minute will go by and nothing is going to happen. It doesn't
matter if you're cooking on gas or electric/ That's just the way it is. But it
is important that you keep the vessel in motion so that the heat can evenly
build around the kernels. Don't worry, your patience will be rewarded.
Now when it sounds like the popping is just beginning to subside, pick up the pace on the shaking. That'll keep the popped pieces from burning, and help the few remaining kernels to get the heat that they so badly need.
Now, just smell those pyrazines, phenols, pyrroles, carbanols, and furans. Oh, you can't smell them, can you? I'm sorry. But trust me, the aroma is distinct and divine. It is also fleeting, which is why you cannot get this out of a bag of pre-popped popcorn, okay?
Now if you are a butter fan, well, now would be the time. Just melt three tablespoons of unsalted butter in a measuring cup or ramekin or something, and drizzle it around and toss. Me, I'm a purist. Save your butter for the, I don't know, corn on the cob.
3 Tbs. Unsalted Butter,
[AB is watching television] Well, if you ask me, there's not a show on earth that isn't improved with a good, big bowl of popcorn, including this one.
|Say, you prefer flavored popcorns? Heck, I do too, sometimes. Try a teaspoon each of freshly chopped thyme and rosemary, sprinkle thusly. And what the heck, we might even give it a little squirt of that butter I was bad-talking a little bit earlier.||
1 tsp. Each
Freshly Chopped Thyme &
Other possibilities: your favorite spice or pepper rub. You could
squirt on a little vinegar. Sky's the limit. Oh, and if you like the candied
stuff that they talk about in that song, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", you
know? The one with the prize in the box? Not a problem.
On the cook top side, the hardware will include a medium saucepan, a candy or frying thermometer, and a heat-proof spatula of some type. On the countertop side you will require the services of one half-sheet pan, one piece of parchment paper, cut to fit. You are also going to need some no-stick spray both on the pan and, once the paper is down, on top of that, too. This is sticky stuff, kids. There. Last, but not least, one very large stainless steel bowl. Now, software on the counter side ...
|While you're busy with the software, go ahead and set your oven for 112.11 degrees Celsius. For you Fahrenheit fans, that's 250.||
|And now for the application. Four ounces, yes, that's right, one stick of butter goes into the saucepan over medium heat.||4 Ounces Unsalted Butter|
Cracker Jack was invented by F.W. & Louis Ruekhelm in 1893.
The prize was added in 1912.
Once your butter is melted, add 16 ounces of dark brown sugar—that's about two cups—a quarter of a cup of dark corn syrup, and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and bring the mixture to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
16 Ounces Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Dark Corn Syrup
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
|Software on the counter side includes three ounces of popcorn—about three quarts—tossed with one cup of salted peanuts.||
3 Ounces Popped Popcorn
1 Cup Salted Peanuts
|When it hits the correct temperature, pour the syrup right onto the popcorn mixture. Work as quickly as you can to get it all out, because it will set up very, very quickly on you. There. Now use your spatula to just fold the syrup onto the corn. Turning the bowl helps. Just get it done as quickly as you can.||
At this point, the syrup should be cool enough to where you can just kind of use
your hands and spread everything out until it is good and even. There. Now, to
[AB slips a little on the floor] Ohh, ummph, wait ... I guess I ought to clean up that no-stick spray. Anyway, slide this into the oven for one hour. This low temperature will drive away a good bit of the moisture, leaving us with a nice, crisp candy. Whoa [slips and falls].
That long, low cooking has now given us that ever-so slightly caramel burn flavor that Cracker ... well, that other stuff is known for. Now, we have to have a prize, of course, so I'm thinking that a floss pick would be a good thing. You know, that pericarp can be a real killer. Are there other options for popcorn leftovers? Sure, especially if you're willing to wait 'til morning.
Not The Original
Believe it or not, popcorn was the first American breakfast cereal. In fact, it was served at the Kellogg's famed Battle Creek Sanitarium long before Corn Flakes were invented. In fact, it has been said that the reason that John Kellogg's brother, W. K., developed Corn Flakes in the first place, is that he couldn't figure out how to market boxes of pre-popped popcorn.
Now if I pop corn at night, I always save some for breakfast. First, the corn. Obviously, lightly salted but otherwise unflavored would be best. Then, either whole milk or, if you're feeling extravagant, half-and-half. Sprinkle with a bit of sugar and dig right in. Hah hah hah hah hah. Now that is all natural corny goodness for just a penny a bowl. As for health concerns, well ...
GUESTS: Three Doctors
... just ask these doctors what they think. [looks at the doctors who are busy watching the movie and eating their popcorn]
Okay, I'll help. Popcorn is high in fiber which we all know is a good thing. Dentists dig it because it is a sugarless snack. And although pediatricians warn against serving popcorn to toddlers because of potential choking hazards, they do like home-popped corn for older kids because it doesn't contain additives, dyes, preservatives, or other, you know, stuff. Microwaved and butter-flavored movie popcorn could possibly be another story, so pop your own. It's good, it's good for you, and it's more fun than a barrel full of MDs.
DOCTORS: [in unison] Shhhh.
See you next time, on "Good Eats".
GUESTS: Crew members
AB: [from underneath a giant model of a popped kernel] And, cut.
DIRECTOR: [off camera] Alright, everybody, that's half an hour for lunch.
[crew members walk by, leaving AB stuck under the kernel]
AB: What? Yeah, that's fun. Hey. Wha ... Hey, Brad, man, help.
Gimme a ...
AB: Oh, come on!
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010