iPhoneOgraphy – 05 Mar 2016 (Day 65/366)
Popcorn, also known as popping corn, is a type of corn that expands from the kernel and puffs up when heated. Popcorn is able to pop because, like amaranth grain, sorghum, quinoa, and millet, its kernels have a hard moisture-sealed hull and dense starchy innards. When heated, pressure builds within the kernel, and a small explosion (or “pop”) is the end result. Some strains of corn are now cultivated specifically as popping corns.
Corn was first domesticated in Mexico 9,000 years ago from a wild grass. The oldest specimen of popcorn was found in New Mexico, and is about 5,600 years old. It is speculated that popcorn was introduced to the pre-Columbian North America by the Iroquois, with the process being observed by European settlers on the eastern part of the continent. Popping of the kernels was achieved manually through the 19th century, being sold on the east coast under names such as ‘Pearls’ or ‘Nonpareil’. The term ‘popped corn’ first appeared in John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms. Popcorn was an ingredient in Cracker Jack, and in the early years of the product was popped by hand.
Popcorn’s accessibility increased rapidly in the 1890s with Charles Cretors’ invention of the popcorn maker. Cretors, a Chicago candy store owner, created a number of steam powered machines for roasting nuts, and applied the technology to the corn kernels. By the turn of the century, Cretors had created and deployed street carts equipped with steam powered popcorn makers.
During the Great Depression, popcorn was fairly inexpensive at 5–10 cents a bag and became popular. Thus, while other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived and became a source of income for many struggling farmers, including the Reddenbacher family, namesake of the famous popcorn brand. During World War II, sugar rations diminished candy production, and Americans compensated by eating three times as much popcorn as they had before. The snack was popular at theaters, much to the initial displeasure of many of the theater owners, who thought it distracted from the films. Their minds eventually changed, however, and in 1938 a Midwestern theater owner named Glen W. Dickson installed popcorn machines in the lobbies of his theaters. The venture was a financial success, and the trend soon spread.
In 1970, Orville Redenbacher’s namesake brand of popcorn was launched. In 1981, General Mills received the first patent for a microwave popcorn bag, with popcorn consumption seeing a sharp increase by tens of thousands of pounds in the years following.
At least six localities (all in the Midwestern United States) claim to be the “Popcorn Capital of the World;”: Ridgway, Illinois; Valparaiso, Indiana; Van Buren, Indiana; Schaller, lowa; Marion, Ohio; and North Loup, Nebraska. According to the USDA, corn used for popcorn production is specifically planted for this purpose; most is grown in Nebraska and Indiana, with increasing area in Texas.
As the result of an elementary school project, popcorn became the official state snack food of Illinois.