Popcorn has been enjoyed by the people of the Americas for a very long time. Popcorn was first cultivated by the people living in what is now Peru. It is one of the oldest forms of corn evidence of popcorn from 3600 B.C. was found in New Mexico, while even older evidence was found in Peru. It is estimated that these remnants date from as early as 4700 B.C.
FYI F.W. Rueckheim introduced a molasses flavored “Candied Popcorn”, his brother, Louis, slightly altered the recipe and introduced it as Cracker Jack popcorn in 1896.
Air-popped popcorn is naturally high in dietary fiber and antioxidants, low in calories and fat, and free of sugar and sodium. Popcorn is included on the list of foods that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not serving to children under four, because of the risk of choking.
Nutritionally, it is one of the best all-around snack foods, providing 67% as much protein, 110% as much iron and as much calcium as an equal amount of beef. An average 1.5-ounce serving of popcorn supplies the same energy as two eggs; and a cup of unbuttered popcorn contains less calories than half a medium grapefruit. In addition, hull is excellent roughage, comparing favorably with bran flakes or whole wheat toast.
Popcorn will pop when the kernel’s internal temperature reaches 400-460 degrees Fahrenheit. Bound within the endosperm or starch is moisture. When the kernel is heated, the moisture turns to steam. Because the pericarp or hull is hard and flinty, pressure builds up within the kernel. The starch inside the kernel becomes soft like gelatin and the moisture vaporizes until the pressure in the kernel reaches 135 pounds per square inch. The pressure increases until the pericarp or hull ruptures and the gelatinized starch granules puff out. The kernel literally turns inside out. The starch or endosperm is the white part of the popped kernel and the pericarp or hull is the darker, flaky bit at the center of the kernel.
Popcorn seed germinates more slowly than sweet corn, and the seedlings grow more slowly, thus, medium to coarse textured soils, which warm slightly faster than fine textured soils, should improve germination, emergence and seedling establishment.
The popcorn root system is less extensive than that of sweet corn and does not perform well in high clay content and/or poorly drained soils.
Careful seedbed preparation is important because seed size is small. A clod-free seedbed will ensure coverage of the seed placed just deep enough (1 -2 inches) to be in contact with moist soil.
Timely planting of popcorn is very important because of its slow germination and seedling growth and because it must reach harvest maturity for maximum popping expansion. Planting should not occur until early-May when soils warm to temperatures conducive to rapid germination and emergence. Planting delays after mid-May need to be balanced with popcorn maturities and the length of your growing season.
For best storage, the moisture content of popcorn must be low enough to prevent significant fungal and microbial activity, but not so low as to adversely affect its popping volume. Popcorn at 14.5% moisture can be safely stored over winter and into early spring. For longer term storage, it should be dried to 13.5-12.5%.
Summer 2011 was a really bad year for growing popcorn in southwest Oklahoma. We had many summer days when the temperature exceeded 110 degrees.
Old man Brown has been planting a 40 acre patch in popcorn for many years, being an old man he still farmed that 40 acres using his old mule Jake. However in mid summer of 2011 Jake died. I saw Old man Brown digging a large hole under the shade of a large Pecan tree and stopped to see what he was up to. I ask him why he was digging hole and old man Brown explained that he was digging a hole to bury Jake. The day before when the temperature hit 118 degrees, his popcorn crop started popping in the field, when that dumb old mule, Jake saw all that corn popping, he thought it was snowing and froze to death.
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