CORNY NEWS FROM CHUBEZA
Each year I’m a little late in writing about the “different” corn that turns up in your boxes around this time of the year. But today, I’m right on time! Hold your horses before you complain about the shriveled, hard-as-rock corn you received this week. Here’s the explanation:
Traditionally, the end of each summer heralds the popcorn season. Over the next few weeks, you will be receiving smaller and stiffer corn cobs than usual. Don’t toss them out—they are rare, delectable treats. This is popcorn! In honor of the newcomers, we are reposting The Popcorn Newsletter. Enjoy!
POP GOES THE POPCORN
The end of the summer always brings the popcorn season, and Chubeza’s ready and jumping to the beat. We’re pleased to warn you that over the coming weeks you will be receiving some rather odd corncobs in your boxes: remarkably hard, small and bright yellow. But no, this is not a mistake, nor some terrible mutant in growth. Halt in your tracks to the garbage bin to dump this apparent corn-gone-bad. Aha! This isn’t more of our legendary sweet corn, at all. It’s popcorn!
And in its honor, we shall re-run our traditional Popcorn Newsletter. Enjoy your show!
Back around 3500 BC in a cave in North America (somewhere central-west of today’s New Mexico), the guys were hanging out together, glued to the TV of the era, the blazing campfire. As the flames danced and brought joy to their hearts, they had to nosh on something. But for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery, they somehow did not polish off everything from their plates. Remains of that late-night-nosh were discovered over 5000 years later by archaeologists in 1948, in what became known as world’s oldest popcorn. (It still looked quite crunchy and yummy, but a tad too stale to nibble on.)
The popcorn is indeed a special species of corn. They were seeded along with the first round of corn, but after the plants grew dark red-bearded cobs, we cut off their water and allowed the cobs, smaller than the sweet corn variety, to fully mature and dry on the stalk. Last week we picked the dry, hard cobs and stored them in our warehouse for further drying and hardening. How wonderful to munch on food that bears a history of thousands of years of noshing!
Popcorn comes in many colors and forms. Here are a few of them:
An especially cute type is strawberry popcorn, which looks like this:
Native Americans used popcorn even before they discovered the corn we know and love so well. They probably fell onto popcorn by chance, as some random kernel rolled into the fire and suddenly popped. This surely led to attempts to reenact the wonder, and later to make it an institution. In ancient times, they would roast the popcorn by heating the cobs over direct flame or in a pit in the ground filled with sand and heated to a high temperature. The cobs were placed into the pit whole, and the kernels would pop on the cob, wrapped in its sheaf and protected by the sand. Prehistoric cooks also made special utensils to roast this snack, clay pots with feet to place atop the fire.
Primeval Americans used the popcorn not only as nosh. They made soup and beer out of it, and it was used as a decoration in ritual ceremonies, as well as for jewelry and head ornaments. Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain and fertility, was adorned with popcorn-string necklaces, and the god of water and protector of fishermen would receive an offering of “hailstones” made from popcorn. Europeans who arrived ashore were also welcomed with gifts of popcorn necklaces, and to this day there are those who decorate their Christmas trees with fresh, aromatic popcorn.
One modern, non-conventional popcorn-based attempt—which ultimately failed—was to use popcorn as an ecological, biodegradable substitute for Styrofoam packing material. You must admit that it is a very captivating idea, yet sadly the popcorn’s natural appeal attracted insects and other pests and organisms to the party. The popcorn completely lost its beneficial packing qualities when wet, and was prone to flammability. Alas.
Popcorn, or in its scientific name, Zea mays averta, is a subspecies of flint corn. Flint corn got its name from its hard-as-rock shell, one of the required components for popping. Also required are a proper level of humidity and a high level of starch within the kernel. Due to the kernel’s hard shell, when it’s heated, the moisture locked inside turns to steam and the pressure builds up. The starch inside the kernel gelatinizes and becomes soft and pliable. The pressure continues to mount until reaching the breaking point of the hull: The steam forcefully explodes, exposing the soft starch. The starch expands and dries rapidly to become the dry, crispy, puffy foam we call popcorn.
Here is film that illustrates the process a very dramatic, slow motion presentation:
– For the foam to dry quickly, place the kernels in a pot in a thin layer to create crispy popcorn that will not reabsorb the moisture from the pot.
– FYI, popped popcorn kernels expand exponentially beyond their original size. Two tablespoons of raw popcorn kernels produce 2 ½ cups of the popped product!
– In its natural form, popcorn is an excellent choice for a healthy snack. Air-popped popcorn is naturally high in dietary fiber, low in calories and fat, and is both sodium and sugar free. This, of course, relates to clean, fresh popcorn, minus the addition of salt, sugar and caramel that transform it from a handsome prince to a scary toad.
– And, please take care of the children: do not allow popcorn to children under 4!
Storage: Popcorn kernels might look tough, but they won’t be if you don’t treat them properly. Storing popcorn in the fridge may dry it or make it too moist to allow popping. Best to keep popcorn kernels in a dry, dark cupboard away from heat, moisture and light.
It is advisable to separate the kernels from cob, and store in sealed jar, ceramic container or sealed tin.
Here is a short demonstration of how to best separate the kernels from the cob. (Starring Chubeza popcorn, and the hands of Talya, our website wizard).
Making fine popcorn is an art in itself. The quality and quantity of the popping depends on the rate at which the kernels are heated. If heated too quickly, they’ll explode before the starch in the center of the kernel can fully gelatinize, leading to half-popped kernels with hard centers (what was the hull). The tip of the kernel, where it attached to the cob, is more sensitive than the rest of the hull. Heating too slowly will crack the tip and allow steam to escape, preventing the build-up of pressure and the ultimate popping. In the past, making popcorn in a pot was a task that required training, specialization, and great skill. In today’s microwave era, everything is so much simpler, but still it’s a good idea to put aside a few kernels and try the old-fashioned popping method of yesteryear.
In microwave: Place small quantity of kernels (approximately 2 T) into a paper bag you received in your box (make sure it’s dry and not torn), and fold the edge of bag to seal. (At last: a way to re-use those paper bags!) Set timer for 2-3 minutes, and listen carefully. After a few seconds the kernels will start popping loudly, setting the bag into a lively, throbbing dance. When 3 seconds without any popping have elapsed, remove paper bag from the microwave. Caution! It’s hot. Make a small opening for ventilation; allow steam to escape, and then cool. Add salt, and the seasoning of your choice.
In a pot: (from the website of Kibbutz Sha’ar Hagolan)
The rule is 3 T of oil for each ½ – ¾ cup of popcorn. The oil should cover the bottom of the pot and coat each kernel. (You can combine oil and butter, if desired.)
Timetable 1: Pour the oil and wait a bit till it warms up. (Can use one or two kernels to test.) When oil-bubbles form around kernel, it’s time to start.
Question: Should we toss the kernels?
A: In the beginning of the process, you can give it a little shake to arrange the kernels in one layer and for the oil to cover.
Timetable 2: Leave the kernels on medium heat. When you start hearing the first to pop, lower the flame.
Babysitter: Keep an eye on them. This is no time to go set the DVD.
Listen to the sound of the popping kernels. When the frequency diminishes, it’s time to turn off the flame. Do not open the pot till you hear the silence of the all-popped popcorn.
Good luck with your popping, and Shavua Tov from Bat Ami, Alon, and the Chubeza. team
What’s in the boxes this week?
Monday: parsley, scallions, lettuce, eggplants, green soy (edamame) or Thai yard long beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, a piece of Tripolitanian pumpkin, red peppers, potatoes, popcorn
In the large box, in addition: okra, cherry tomatoes, nana
Wednesday: red peppers, spaghetti or butternut squash, a piece of Tripolitanian pumpkin, tomatoes, scallions, eggplants, cucumbers, lettuce, nana or white savory, popcorn, Thai long beans or okra.
In the large box, in addition: Cherry tomatoes, potatoes, cilantro or garlic chive
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: granola and cookies, flour, sprouts, goat dairies, fruits, honey, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers and organic olive oil too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now!