My Father-in-law grew an acre or so of popcorn this year and had brought over about 40 ears for us to sell at our little stand. Fortunately for us, they didn't sell! For the life of me I can't imagine why it didn't sell other than perhaps most people didn't know what it was and didn't realize that after they decorated with it they could eat it. I mean, this is useful stuff, it's not like normal purely ornamental indian corn. Oh well, it meant more for us.
Most people don't believe me when I tell them that there really is a difference in taste between homegrown, home dried, pan popped popcorn and the popcorn that you get in a little paper bag and stuff in the microwave, at least until they try it. Microwave popcorn needs the butter it's slathered in and the mounds of salt covering it. Without it, it tastes pretty terrible. Pan popped popcorn tastes great with just a little shake of salt and nothing else.
We dried our popcorn in a cool dry spot in our garage for about two weeks before I even bothered to pop a few test kernels.
Despite the fact that a small mouse or other critter had managed to sneak a few bites during that time the drying was successful and the test kernels popped just as they were supposed to. So we took half of the cobs inside to hull them.
The kids usually get the job of hulling the popcorn and it's one of the chores that they actually enjoy. They made pretty quick work of the first 20 ears that they worked up. We'll save the next 20 for tomorrow or the next day. Ordinarily, after you've hulled the popcorn you can simply stick what you don't want pop right away into freezer bags and freeze them for up to 30 months. However, since hulling is done by the children in my house, I find that I have to wash the kernels after they are done hulling because we usually end up with excessive amounts of cob pieces, hairs, and general debris. When it's in small amounts it's no problem but when the debris covers the kernels in their bowls it becomes more of an issue.
The nice thing is that dry corn kernels sink while dirt and debris tends to float. So, I simply immerse the corn kernels in a large bowl full of warm water and then fish the debris out with a mesh ladle strainer. If you find you need to do this then try to make quick work of it. Soaking the kernels for a few minutes won't hurt anything but you don't want them to soak for hours. After I'm done washing them I stick them on cooking sheets in single layers and put them in the oven at 170 degrees (the lowest my oven will go) for about an hour or hour and a half to dry.
I popped up a batch for my brother-in-law and his girlfriend since they had come for a visit. His girlfriend had never seen anyone pop popcorn in a pan on the stove before, which really surprised me. It got me thinking that maybe popping popcorn on the stove is becoming a lost art, perhaps there are many people out there who don't know how to do this. So I'll run down the process on here.
Popping Popcorn on the stove:
1. Get a sauce pan with a well fitting lid. I use one with a glass lid so my kids can watch the kernels pop, it's like nature's best magic trick. It seriously entertains them almost as well as Saturday morning cartoons.
2. Pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. It doesn't have to be a lot of oil, a small amount will do as long as it completely covers the bottom of the pan.
3. Turn the heat on medium-high.
4. When the oil has had a little time to heat up throw in a couple of test kernels. If they pop (usually takes just a few seconds) then you know that the oil is hot enough to add the rest of the kernels. If they turn brown immediately or scorch then you know the oil is obviously way to hot. If it takes them forever to pop then you either don't have the oil hot enough or your popcorn is a dud.
5. Pour in just enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer. If you pour in more than a single layer on the bottom, the kernels underneath are more likely to burn and the kernels on top are more likely to not pop.
6. Move the pan from side to side regularly to coat the kernels that haven't popped with the oil and to help keep the ones that have popped from burning.
7. The kernels will start popping at a furious pace and then, after several seconds the popping will start to slow down. At this point, take the pan off of the heat, wait another couple of seconds for the holdouts to pop, then CAREFULLY remove the lid because there will probably be a lot of steam.
8. Pour your popcorn into a bowl and dress it up however you want. Obviously you can use salt or melted butter or both. My husband actually likes to eat his with Zatarain's Creole Seasoning or seasoned salt. I've also heard of people using powdered cheese, cinnamon sugar, regular sugar, caramel, a little powdered cocoa mixed with sugar, even a little Tabasco sauce (that last one is a little too adventurous for my blood). The possibilities for toppings are endless really. Once your done dressing up your popcorn, dig in and enjoy it.