Want to know why I love popcorn so much I decided to immortalise it in sterling silver? Read on to find out!
If you’ve checked out any of the Perfectly Popped collection pieces, you might have read that the kernel represents potential, which I believe we all have, and the popped corn represents the realisation of that potential – when you make something awesome, whether it’s a performance, a script, or, in my case, some jewellery.
You might not know this about me, but I was the only girl in my entire year at a pretty large college that studied Physics A level. Lots of physics looks at energy, and for me, that’s what a kernel has – a lot of potential energy.
Here's a my college bus pass photos to give you a little chuckle!
(Sorry about the resolution - they're from a loooooong time ago!)
Without boring you all (hopefully!) potential energy is basically stored energy, which can be changed into something else. A book on a table has the potential to convert that energy to movement and fall on the floor. The food we eat has the potential for us to convert that energy into movement, or heat.
So, what’s all this got to do with popcorn? It’s all about the kernels and what they have the potential to become, just like we have the creative potential inside us.
Another cool science-y thing is that for a long time, scientists didn’t understand exactly why and how popcorn popped. You can’t pop just any corn. The kernels have to be right.
When the kernels are heated, the tiny amount of water inside them becomes steam. This builds pressure that the thick walls keep in, until it builds and builds until it explodes! How amazing is that? It takes around 135 psi to pop the corn, which is approximately 9 times the normal pressure in the atmosphere. No wonder popcorn can pop up to three feet in the air!
The corn has to be heated to around 200-240C (or 400-460F) before it pops. Corn can also expand up to 30 times it’s original size when popped. Wow!
Popcorn has two shapes – mushroom and snowflake – and it’s usually the snowflake shape that is the most popular. You never get the same shape twice, and that’s one of the reasons I think it makes fantastic jewellery. It truly is a piece as unique as you are.
People had eaten popcorn at carnivals for many years before popcorn made it’s way into the cinema. The world’s oldest known corn popper was a shallow vessel with a handle and hole on top, and was designed around 300AD. There is even evidence that the Aztecs used popcorn during their ceremonies, and it has even been found in Peru, dated around 4700BC.
But, Joy, what about the movies?
In 1885, the first steam powered popcorn maker was used, which meant that popcorn making became mobile. You didn’t need to make it in a kitchen, like hot dogs or crisps (potato chips).
The first cinemas were a lot like theatres, and their owners didn’t want to lower their image by letting in carnival food (even if it was popular and incredibly tasty!). In the days of silent movies, you had to be able to read to go and watch one and follow the story. It’s something that most of us take for granted these days, but in the mid to late 1800s, it wasn’t something that everyone could do then (and, sadly, isn’t even in some countries now).
It was only really during the Great Depression in the 1920s that popcorn and cinema began their wonderful union. Sound was added to films in 1927, which opened movies up to a much wider audience. Popcorn was cheap to make and so cheap to sell, which meant that it was an affordable treat for ordinary folks. If the theatre owners still didn’t like the idea of popcorn, it didn’t matter, as the street vendors had them beat. They just wheeled up outside the cinema, sold the popcorn, and wheeled on their way again.
Eventually, the cinemas caught on, and allowed snacks to be sold inside the theatres for a fee. Later they cut out the middleman and sold snacks themselves – the beginning of the modern concession stand.
Throughout World War 2, popcorn continued to flourish, with Americans eating three times as much popcorn. While sugar shortages created problems for other snacks, popcorn thrived, tasting pretty close to perfection when air popped (if you ask me, anyway!)
Popcorn is also a pretty healthy snack:
- It has more protein than any other cereal
- It has more iron than eggs or roast beef
- It was more fibre than pretzels or crisps (potato chips)
- Popcorn is high in fibre
- It is very low in fat, and contains no salt or sugar (until it is added)
- There are many other vitamins and minerals in popcorn.
- It is also rich in polyphenols, an antioxidant thought to be beneficial
- A cup of plain popcorn contains just 31 calories, or if you want a bigger serving, two tables spoons will make a quart of popcorn, and contains just 120 calories
- Three cups of popcorn will provide you with a serving of wholegrains
- Popcorn is gluten free
But it wasn’t all roses for popcorn and movies. During the 1950s when the first televisions started to enter homes, popcorn consumption dropped. People actually stopped going to the movies. They didn’t eat much popcorn at home either.
Luckily, the draw of ‘freshly popped’ movies and the enduring appeal of the cinema experience won out in the end.
Stuart Hanson, a film historian at De Montfort University in Leicester (UK) once said, "One of the great jokes in the industry is that popcorn is second only to cocaine or heroin in terms of profit." Give me popcorn any day!