Popcorn/history/warning/recipes/old Maids


Biblical accounts of “corn” stored in the pyramids of Egypt are misunderstood. The “corn” from the bible was probably barley. The mistake comes from a changed use of the word “corn,” which used to signify the most-used grain of a specific place. In England, “corn” was wheat, and in Scotland and Ireland the word referred to oats. Since maize was the common American “corn,” it took that name – and keeps it today.

It is believed that the first use of wild and early cultivated corn was popping.

The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950. Ranging from smaller than a penny to about 2 inches, the oldest Bat Cave ears are about 4,000 years old.

Popcorn was integral to early 16th century Aztec Indian ceremonies. Bernardino de Sahagun writes: “And also a number of young women danced, having so vowed, a popcorn dance. As thick as tassels of maize were their popcorn garlands. And these they placed upon (the girls’) heads.”

In 1519, Cortes got his first sight of popcorn when he invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Aztecs. Popcorn was an important food for the Aztec Indians, who also used popcorn as decoration for ceremonial headdresses, necklaces and ornaments on statues of their gods, including Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility.

An early Spanish account of a ceremony honoring the Aztec gods who watched over fishermen reads: “They scattered before him parched corn, called momochitl, a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower; they said these were hailstones given to the god of water.”

Writing of Peruvian Indians in 1650, the Spaniard Cobo says, “They toast a certain kind of corn until it bursts. They call it pisancalla, and they use it as a confection.”

The use of the moldboard plow became commonplace in the mid-1800s and led to the widespread planting of maize in the United States.


The Environmental Protection Agency is studying the chemicals released into the air when a bag of microwave popcorn is popped or opened.

Exposure to vapors from butter flavoring in microwave popcorn has been linked to a rare lung disease contracted by factory workers in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has said it suspects the chemical diacetyl caused the illnesses.

However, health officials insist people who microwave popcorn and eat it at home are not in danger.

In the first direct study of chemicals contained in one of the nation’s most popular snack foods, the EPA’s Indoor Environment Management Branch at Research Triangle Park, N.C., is examining the type and amount of chemicals emitted from microwave popcorn bags.

Further research would be needed to determine any health effects of those chemicals and whether consumers are at risk, said Jacky Rosati, an EPA scientist involved in the study.

“Once we know what chemicals are and the amounts, somebody else can look at the health effects,” Rosati said Wednesday.

About 50 brands, batches and flavors of microwave popcorn - from super-buttery to sugary sweet “kettle corn” - are being tested, she said.

“Obviously, we are looking at diacetyl because it is a known compound that will come off this popcorn. But we’re not looking at that alone,” Rosati said.

The EPA study began last fall and is expected to be completed this year. It likely will be submitted for peer review before being made public, Thompson said.

Rosati started the study after hearing a presentation on popcorn workers who became sick at the Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. plant in Jasper, Mo.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has linked diacetyl to the respiratory illnesses found in workers who mix the microwave popcorn flavorings. Investigators believe the chemical becomes hazardous when it is heated and there is repeated exposure to large quantities over a long time.

Thirty former workers at the Jasper plant are suing two butter flavoring manufacturers.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association based in Washington, D.C., said the flavor ingredients in microwave popcorn pose no threat to consumers.

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food additives, also considers butter flavoring to be safe for consumer use.

Border Corn

1/4 c unpopped corn (8 cups popped)
1 c shredded monterey jack cheese
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin

Pop popcorn. Mix spices into the shredded cheese. Sprinkle mixture over unseasoned popcorn and toss until well blended.

Cajun Corn

1/4 cup unpopped popcorn (8 cups popped)
4 tblsp butter
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp lemon pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Pop popcorn. Melt butter and add the spices. Drizzle over the unseasoned popcorn and toss until well blended.

Sweetened Popcorn

2 tblsp butter
1/4 c water
1 c white sugar
6 c popped butter flavor popcorn

Line two baking sheets with waxed paper.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, combine butter, water and sugar. Bring to a boil. Boil 4 minutes; remove from heat. Introduce popcorn and stir to coat evenly. Pour onto prepared baking sheets and let cool before serving.
Makes 12 servings

Nacho Popcorn

1/4 c butter, melted
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
10 c popped popcorn
1/3 c grated Parmesan cheese

Combine melted butter, paprika, crushed red pepper, and ground cumin; toss with popcorn, coating evenly. Sprinkle with cheese; toss.
Makes 10 cups.

Boullion Buttered Popcorn

2-1/2 tblsp butter
1 cube chicken bouillon
2 qts Popped popcorn
Salt to taste

Melt butter over low heat. Dissolve bouillon cube in melting butter. Drizzle over popcorn. Add salt to taste. Makes 2 quarts.

Peanut-Buttered Butter Popcorn

1 tblsp peanut butter, creamy or chunky
2 tblsp butter
2 qts Popped popcorn
Salt taste

Melt butter and butter over low heat until smooth. Pour over popcorn and mix well. Add salt to taste. If desired, increase the amount of peanut butter while decreasing the butter an equal amount.
Other nut butters such as almond, cashew, sesame seed or sunflower seeds are available in health food stores.

French Herb Butter Popcorn

2 tblsp butter
? tsp lemon juice
? tsp crushed dried parsley flakes
? tsp crushed dried chervil, basil or savory
? tsp finely chopped chives
2 qts Popped popcorn
Salt to taste

Melt butter over low heat. Stir herbs and lemon juice into the melting butter. Drizzle over popcorn. Add salt to taste. Makes 2 quarts.

Carmel Popcorn

16 c popped popcorn
1 stick butter
1 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c light Karo
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 c peanuts, optional

Place butter, sugar, salt, karo in microwaveable bowl. Microwave (high) for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir microwave 3 minutes more. Remove from microwave stir in baking soda until foamy. Place popcorn and peanuts in brown grocery bag. Pour syrup over popcorn in bag. Fold top over 3 times. Microwave 1 minute. Shake closed bag well. Microwave 1 minute more. Shake again. Microwave 30 seconds more. Carefully cool on cookie sheets.


To pop popcorn on a range-top, assemble the following:

A 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 - 460 degrees Fahrenheit (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.

Pre-salting kernels toughens popcorn. So, salt the popcorn after it has been popped – or skip salt altogether and add salt-free spices.


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.

“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 re-hydrate the dried kernels.

Fill a one-quart jar three-quarters full of popcorn and add 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.

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.

Using melted margarine instead of real butter will make your popcorn soggy because of the high water content in the margarine!