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Mississippi’s Only Popcorn Farmer

When you think about healthy snacks, do you think about popcorn? You should!

Popcorn contains health-promoting dietary fiber and antioxidants, which can help prevent and manage most chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. But not all popcorn is created equal.

The health benefits of popcorn start to decline as you add in the butter, salt, and other sugary toppings found at movie theaters and gourmet shops. You can enjoy 3 cups of air-popped popcorn for less than 100 calories and still get 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and only 1 gram of fat. Talk about a nutrient-packed snack!

Save those savory and sweet kernels for special occasions, and utilize air-popped and stove-topped popcorn for weekday snacking made easy.

When you think about popcorn farming, do you think about Mississippi? You should! Crop to Pop is grown by John Mark Looney Jr. in the Mississippi Delta, where his father and grandfather have been farming for decades. Looney wanted to branch away from commodity crops and bring something new to the farm. A friend suggested he try popcorn, and the rest is history. You can find Crop to Pop in retail shops in 11 states, including businesses across Mississippi.

While corn is a significant crop for Mississippi farmers, Looney is the state’s only popcorn farmer. Popcorn is corn, but it takes a different variety of corn to pop the way you and I enjoy it.

“You can pop field corn, but it doesn’t taste good. I’ve tried it,” Looney said.

Popcorn resembles sweet corn but has a shorter stalk than what you see lining the highways and byways of Mississippi farmland. But, like any crop, water plus nutrients are essential to a healthy harvest. That is why the abundance of sunshine, water, and the rich soil of the Mississippi Delta make for tasty popcorn straight from the field.

Crop to Pop is grown and processed on the farm. Late summer is harvest time for popcorn, and a team gathers to help remove all the field trash and bag it before it ever leaves the property. Looney recalls the first time he popped his crop.

“We found a pot in the shop with a bunch of bolts in it, cleaned it out, while an employee ran to the house and brought back some cooking oil. We used an acetylene cutting torch to heat it, and it popped!”

When you think about cooking popcorn, do you think about the stovetop? You should! You might be skeptical of stovetop popcorn. Thinking, how much better can it be? I can attest from personal experience that the answer is a lot! You indeed should find out for yourself. Crop to Pop popcorn is a yellow butterfly popcorn similar to that found in movie theaters. When you get a bag of Crop to Pop, you get a bag full of the same popcorn, bred to maximize characteristics that create a consistent popcorn. More prominent companies blend popcorn varieties from different growers to keep the cost down, often forfeiting flavor in the process.

Instead of the microwave, don’t let the extra effort to cook popcorn on the stove deter you from giving it a try. It’s easier than you might think. Start with roughly a half cup of popcorn kernels. Make sure you have a large enough pot with a lid so that the seeds have room to dance around and expand. Heat your pot over medium heat and pour in the kernels. It isn’t needed, but add 1 to 3 tablespoons of light oil if desired. Place the lid on the pot. You’ll soon start to hear the kernels pop-pop-popping.

Once the pops are a few seconds apart, turn off the stove burner and let steam escape the lid. Then, remove the popcorn and coat with additional oil, salt, or flavorings as desired (Pro tip: Coat the popcorn with oil while it’s still hot, and then follow up with any dry ingredients).

Once you get the basics of stovetop popping down, you can be great creative in the kitchen. Looney suggests using the standard stovetop cooking method, but sub in duck fat instead of cooking oil, and black truffle salt. Looney shares his family’s kettle corn recipe below when looking for a sweeter treat.

While we think of popcorn as a modern-day movie treat, it’s an ancient delicacy. The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave of west-central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950. Ranging from smaller than a penny to about two inches, the oldest Bat Cave ears are about 5,600 years old.

When asked what the shelf life of popcorn is, Looney responds, “Years! As long as it’s sealed up, the shelf life shouldn’t make you worry. In tombs on the east coast of Peru, researchers have found grains of popcorn perhaps 1,000 years old. These grains have been so well-preserved that they will still pop!”

The next time you want to reach for a healthy snack, grab a bag of Crop to Pop that is grown in Tribbett, Mississippi. It’s the only popcorn in Mississippi you can trace from the field to your stove!

Kettle Corn  

Looney notes, “This takes a little trial and error to get right, but it’s my favorite!”

  • 1/2 cup of popcorn
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of oil of your choice
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (add or subtract depending on how salty you like it)

Heat oil in a large pot with a lid over medium/high heat. Add popcorn, and keep in motion. When the first kernels pop, add sugar and stir. Popping will stop as the sugar cools things down in the pot. When the popcorn starts to pop again, replace the lid, reduce heat to medium or medium/low, keep from burning and try to keep it moving. When the popping starts to slow, pour onto a large cookie sheet, spread to prevent clumping, and let cool. You can add cinnamon or other flavorings at the point while the popcorn is still sticky.

 

Photos courtesy of Crop to Pop

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