In my book, Midwest Maize, I share a lot of information about the history of corn—including much of what is included in this video. However, I don’t cover the science behind what makes one particular type of corn–popcorn– turn itself inside out. And I had not previously seen the 250-times magnification of popcorn that shows its structure. So just in case you’re interested in seeing how the miracle of that little white explosion takes place, here you go.
Filed under Corn, Food, Video
In the 1950s, Benjamin Coleman of Berkley, Michigan, invented a fuss-free method of making popcorn. The popcorn was packed in its own pan and had a foil tent that expanded as the popcorn popped. If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that description is Jiffy Pop, you could be forgiven for the error, since it became better known, but Coleman’s product, marketed by the Taylor Reed Corporation, was called E-Z Pop.
Five years after E-Z Pop hit the market, inventor Frederick Mennen of LaPorte, Indiana, created a similar device and called it Jiffy Pop. American Home Products bought Mennen’s creation in 1959, and soon took it national. Not too surprisingly, Taylor Reed sued, because the products were so similar. Initially, they won the suit, but it was later overturned. Apparently, the two products were just enough different to satisfy a judge. E-Z Pop began to fade from the scene. (In all fairness to Mennen, almost every invention in history had lots of people working on the same idea at the same time. Nothing arises in a vacuum. Popcorn was popular and making it more accessible was on many minds.)
Though E-Z Pop vanished, a few of us remember the name (my mom even remembers buying it) and the ads, which ran into the ‘60s. Playing on the rhyme of pop and bop, E-Z Pop used a jazzy presentation for their creation.
Shortly before my book came out, I was working at the Culinary Historians booth at a Whole Foods heirloom foods fair. There were a lot of interesting offerings, from vegetables and fruits to packets of seeds to fragrant flowers. In the booth next to the Culinary Historians booth there were people offering samples of a remarkable heirloom popcorn with tiny kernels. When there was a lag in the traffic, the women staffing that booth offered us some of the popcorn they were promoting. It was tiny but flavorful — living up to its name, Tiny but Mighty.
Then today, on YouTube, this video appeared among the suggestions for my viewing pleasure (interesting how they figure out what is likely to catch one’s attention). It was about that tiny popcorn. The video, however, showed more than the demo at Whole Foods, including that one seed gives you many stalks. This interested me because the plant from which corn originally developed, teosinte, while smaller than even this diminutive corn, likewise has many branches — and it pops. So more than just being an heirloom, this popcorn seems to be a real throw back to earlier varieties–much earlier. So it has now been added to my shopping list — but I thought I’d also share the video. Enjoy.
My interest in corn extends to all forms of corn: field corn, sweet corn, and, of course, popcorn. In my book, there is a more detailed history of popcorn (which was actually the first kind of corn to evolve but the last to reach us in North America), but I also enjoy some of the whimsical aspects of popcorn. For example, the Little Popcorn Shop in Wheaton, IL.
The Little Popcorn Shop began selling popcorn in 1921. It has, in the nearly 100 years since it opened, become a Chicagoland icon. The shop was once merely an alley between two older buildings, until a gentleman named E. Claire Brown decided that it was the perfect location for selling popcorn and candy. The alley, which was only 49 inches wide but 60 feet long, was roofed over and named the In-Between Shop. The shop changed hands, as well as its name, when Brown died, but the Little Popcorn Shop still focuses on buttered popcorn (freshly popped throughout the day) and old-fashioned, dime-store candy. It is also still only 49 inches wide. Fans are numerous and faithful, and delighted that the shop hasn’t changed.
It’s easy to see how the shop got it’s first name—the In-Between Shop.
In this long view of the narrow store, you can see the racks of old-fashioned candy and, at the back, the shop’s owner Bill Wakefield, who is, as usual, popping up fresh, fluffy popcorn in the store’s old poppers.
You don’t have to wonder what size bag you’ll get when you’re ordering.