In the USA National Popcorn month is October. (It was established 30 years ago by the Popcorn Board.) National Popcorn Day is 19 January. And Popcorn Lover’s Day will celebrated on March 12, 2020. Decidedly Americans love popcorn. Popcorn in Paris is another story.
Popcorn is very American. Corn itself is very American. Americans today grow and eat lots of corn plus most of the snack foods they eat are corn based. Corn in the Americas goes way back before the first Thanksgiving when the Indians helped the pilgrims learn how to grow it. There is archaeological evidence that corn was popped in Central America 9000 years ago. 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. Popcorn’s POP-ularity in America spiked with the invention of first popcorn poppers in the 1830s. There were popcorn wagons at most community events. One hundred years later it became POP-ular at the new motion picture shows and has become the quintessential movie snack. Unlike other confections, popcorn sales increased throughout the Depression. A major reason for this increase was the introduction of popcorn into movie theatres and its low cost for both patron and owner.
It really is healthy too. Ella Kellogg (think cereal) enjoyed her popcorn ground with milk or cream. Although she discouraged in-between meal snacking, she urged people to eat popcorn at meals as popcorn was “an excellent food.” Ella’s husband John Harvey Kellogg praised popcorn as being “easily digestible and to the highest degree wholesome, presenting the grain in its entirety.” And then they invented Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
Popcorn is scientifically known as zea mays everta. As we mentioned popcorn is a whole grain. That means it is made up of three components: the germ, endosperm, and pericarp or hull. The 4 most common types of corn are: sweet, that you can eat right off the cob; dent, more commonly called field corn and used for animal fodder; flint or « Indian corn » and popcorn. Only popcorn pops! Popcorn’s hull has just the right thickness to allow it to burst open when heated. It must also have just the right moisture content, because it is the steam that makes the pop.
“As the kernel heats up, the water begins to expand. Around 212 degrees the water turns into steam and changes the starch inside each kernel into a superhot gelatinous goop. The kernel continues to heat to about 347 degrees. The pressure inside the grain will reach 135 pounds per square inch before finally bursting the hull open. As it explodes, steam inside the kernel is released. The soft starch inside the popcorn becomes inflated and spills out, cooling immediately and forming into the odd shape we know and love. A kernel will swell 40-50 times its original size!”. Quote from https://www.popcorn.org/Learn/For-Kids/Science-Fair-Projects
Popcorn is fun, healthy and simple. No exact recipe or measurements are needed. Just cover the bottom of a pan with oil, heat, add enough kernels to cover the oil in a single layer, cover the pan and shake. When the popping slows remove it from the heat. Then you can add toppings. That’s all you have to do! See below for recipes.
Americans make popcorn at home but also get popcorn from fund raisers by the Boy Scouts, from dedicated shops in malls, at the snack counter of Target and from popcorn carts (often for free) in hardware stores and sometimes banks! Popcorn is everywhere. Once in the USA we even had some popcorn served in a restaurant as part of a « café gourmand ». That was a bit too much. Americans give popcorn as gifts, make craft or science projects with it and sometimes use it instead of styrofoam peanuts for shipping padding. Popcorn poppers are found at home, in dorm rooms, stadiums and church kitchens. Americans consume 14 billion quarts (liters) of popcorn annually, that’s 43 per person. Yes the US is crazy about popcorn.
Popcorn in Paris
The first popcorn seen in Paris was at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1889. Then movie theatres started serving it and it seems to be the only place to find it these days. The popcorn in French theatres is usually eaten with sugar rather than salt. But otherwise popcorn has not really caught on in France. (Finally one American import that has been resisted!) Despite a couple of valiant attempts to widen the availability and variety of popcorn in Paris it is just not happening.
In 2016 Scarlett Johansson opened a popcorn shop in the Marais. But it didn’t last long. Scarlet had said, “It has been a dream of mine and my family for several years to bring our favorite American snack to our favorite European City!”. With all that enthusiasm and surely money behind this venture why didn’t it last? Perhaps at 6€ a bag, albeit an American-sized bag, it was too expensive? Most snacks in France are potato based, maybe the French just don’t like corn.
My Crazy Pop had a boutique in the 11th. And that too is gone. But they might continue to do online and corporate sales for events from their space in St Maur des Fosses. Unfortunately they did not respond to our emails to confirm this. Their modus operandi is/was to sublimate popcorn. They use hot air popping methods and propose Frenchified flavors like raspberry, chorizo and piment d’espelette, caramel vanilla, green apple and cinnamon which I’m not sure Americans would enjoy. You get the picture – different flavors for different palets.
Papy Popcorn, made in the Vosges mountains might have a few retailers in Paris. But it is timid and they are not responding to inquiries either, so one must fear for the worst in the Popcorn in Paris quest.
The Real McCoy sells microwave and kernel popcorn imported straight from the States – we might have to settle for that. They also carry another American favorite, Cracker Jack (created in 1896) – popcorn and peanuts coated in molasses caramel in a box with a prize inside. You can find them at 194 rue de Grenelle 75007.
The best news on the popcorn in Paris horizon is that you can get FREE popcorn when you go to Lost in Frenchlation’s film nights with this coupon. https://lostinfrenchlation.com/free-popcorn76711
Did you know:
- Popcorn kernels can pop three feet in the air! That’s why you pop it with a lid on!
- Popcorn is very low in calories compared to other snacks, especially if it is air popped without oil
- Most popcorn is grown in the Midwest, primarily in Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri.
- There is a Popcorn Creek, Popcorn Road and an unincorporated town called Popcorn in Indiana
- Most popcorn comes in two basic shapes when it’s popped: snowflake and mushroom. Snowflake is used in movie theaters and ballparks because it looks and pops bigger. Mushroom is used for candy confections because it doesn’t crumble.
- Popping popcorn is one of the number one uses for microwave ovens.
- If you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles you’d need 352,028, 160 pieces.
- The world’s largest popcorn ball, according to Guinness World Records 2015, was created in 2013 at the Indiana State Fair. The popcorn ball weighed in at 6,510-pounds, 8 feet in diameter. So there!
For a savory topping (these ingredients and measurements are once again very American and maybe hard to find, check at the Real McCoy when you buy your popcorn):
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar, tablespoon paprika, teaspoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon celery salt, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Mix ingredients together in a small bowl. Store mixture in an airtight container.
- To use: melt some unsalted butter, add seasoning to butter then toss with popcorn. Use about 2 teaspoons of seasoning mix for each quart of popcorn. 2 tablespoons of unpopped makes a quart.