The universe has six magical aromas, just six, only six: perfume is first preferably on women, followed by fresh bread, bacon frying, birch burning, toast cooking and/or coffee brewing. And popcorn. It comes as no surprise all of these aromas are edible including the perfume. At least that is my sensation of perfume.
I am of an age where I have lived through a multitude of corn poppers. Air poppers, microwave poppers, ready-made popcorn that came in a can, also in a bag, not to forget disposable aluminum foil poppers. At our community hall we have one of those theater poppers, with a glass vault with a little motorized stir and a heat light to keep the popcorn at that precise seductive essence of virgin popcorn. You can take that meaning however you want, when it comes to popcorn I have no decency. My thinking here is if they can use virgin and extra-extra-virgin on olive oil, it can be used with the same alacrity on popcorn. Virgin popcorn is that just exploded stuff, that when you put your hand in the bowl it comes away warm.
My sense of the proper way to eat popcorn is to take a brimming handful, raise this quantity to your mouth, more technically your face, and allow yourself the impropriety of immersing your face into that handful. To drown in the aroma of this humble American maize blown to smithereens. Corn in zoological Latin is zea mays, as means the Mayan referring to the Mayan of Yucatan and Tabasco. The full trinomial Latin being zea mays everta…corn as turns itself inside out. Popcorn pops because it has a hard moisture-sealing hull and a dense starch interior. Millet likewise can be popped, also sorghum, quinoa and amaranth.
Evidence in Peru for popping corn goes back to 4700 B.C, 3600 B.C. in New Mexico, popcorn is possibly the oldest cultivated food stuff in the Americas.
Story is the Indians brought popcorn to the first Thanksgiving but there isn’t evidence the coastal Indians knew of popcorn. Most modern popcorn is grown under irrigation in Nebraska near the village of North Loup in Valley County, population 294, zip 68859, also the site of the first center pivot manufacture still called Valley Irrigation.
Popcorn is part of the flint corn family, so called because of its hard outer layer compared to dent corn which isn’t hard. The starch in popcorn is also harder than the starch in dent corn such that when heated this starch gelatinizes and at about 135 psi ruptures the hull membrane with that renowned excitement of popcorn. This de-pressurization in turn causes the now semi-fluid starch to expand instantaneously, so fast that voids occur between the starch as it expands, that as instantly, cools. The result is a neatly framed instant of explosion, what we call popcorn.
The Pawnee of Platte/Missouri, the Loup and Republican Rivers have cultivated flint corn since 1000 B.C., a pattern of agriculture that arose centuries earlier among the Mississippian culture, based on corn, its surplus and trade.
Popcorn zea mays everta means “corn turned inside out.” An interesting use of the Latin evenio, to turn out, to happen, an event. Popcorn certainly is an event.
Popcorn has two shapes, the “flakes” termed either butterfly or mushroom. A specific hybrid mushroom popcorn is used commercially for Cracker Jack and caramel, less fragile than butterfly corn to the end it packages well. Popcorn has been served at movie theaters since 1914, a fairly common use of popcorn was as breakfast cereal in the 1800s by homesteaders on the Great Plains, mixed with milk and sugar. In the 1990s the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the fat calories of movie popcorn to a breakfast of bacon and eggs, a Big Mac, fries and a steak dinner…combined.
The smell of popcorn is something bordering on the aphrodisiac. Place an old fashioned hand crank popper on the stove, gather some friends, gather some children and let the smell of zea mays infuse them, a touch of salt, butter though it isn’t necessary. Add a deck of cards, glass of ice water and the conversion of human being to a higher place has begun.
It is my nomination at this moment of popcorn communion that when it is time to displace Christianity as an old-fashioned primitive act, to guess more moments of transfiguration have happened around a popcorn bowl, zea mays everta than around that other kind of supper. Wine isn’t necessary, plain water is just exactly right, this too is a transfiguration.
Want to commune with 4,000 years of this American life, try popcorn.