I love popcorn. Or maybe I should say, “I ♥ popcorn.” I’m crazy about this simple, ancient plant, which can add so much to the edible landscape.
First, homegrown popcorn tastes delicious…beyond delicious, with a faint flavor of the earth, nut-like and with a light crunchy texture, as though sunshine got mixed right into the seed. No need for butter, it's that good. (I'll tell you the secret of popping corn on the stove top in just a minute.)
Next, popcorn is easy to grow, and works especially well for those gardeners among us who might not think to put new seeds in as late as May or June. Popcorn -- any corn -- is a grain, and acts like a great big grass, with straight stalks and tough narrow leaves. The seed head produces the kernels we like to eat.
I have a tiny yard, and so I decided to give popcorn a try because it is smaller than sweet corn, and as it turned out, less appealing to worms, which munch away from within, and to possums, raccoons and other critters that like to eat corn under the cover of darkness. No, my popcorn last year grew fast to four feet tall and produced several good-size ears on each stalk.
Because popcorn matures in about three months (the range is about 83 days to 102 days, depending on the variety), it gives the edible landscape some vertical "lift" in the later days of summer, when other ornamentals are starting to lose vigor and die back (see my book Eat Your Yard! Edible trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and flowers for your landscape for more ideas ).
Popcorn also works well for container gardening, since it doesn't get out of control; each seed produces only one stalk, so I plant groupings of three to six seeds in various spots around the garden. It looks decorative, not like a row crop.
Popcorn comes in lots of colors, from white, through a range of yellow to red, then to blue and even black, and in mixed ears. There are slight variations in taste. No matter what, it's a good idea to plant several different types in case one doesn't germinate well. Plant the kernels directly in the soil -- any kind of soil, but with plenty of sun -- in late spring when it has warmed through. The sprouts will appear within a few weeks and then shoot up during July and August. Look for the maturing ears in September as the stalks begin to dry out.
Although they are all pretty, I like blue popcorn best because the stalks look dark and handsome and the developing seed heads are beautiful up close. The ears of ripe corn are dreamy looking and really blue.
Popcorn formed part of the origin diet in the Americas for thousands of years, and corn culture greeted the European settlers as they arrived. Popcorn is sugar free, low in calories and fat, and high in dietary fiber. In other words, it's good for you.
How to Pop It
In my upcoming book about vegetables, Vegevore! 50 Great Vegetables from A to Z, which will be published by Gibbs Smith, Publisher in the spring of 2013, I have this to say about how popcorn pops: "The science of popping corn is fascinating. Moisture and oils, along with starch, are packed into each kernel, locked in by a tough shell. But when heated at the right speed and temperature, the contents, propelled by internal steam explode from the hard covering to form a fluffy white 'flake.'"
The secret to getting most if not all the kernels to pop is to use a saucepan on the stove top, and heat just a teaspoon of oil to medium high, and keep the temperature there. As the first kernels begin to pop, shake the pan back and forth fast across the burner without stopping, until the popping stops. Somehow the agitation and rolling action distributes the heat even around the kernels. Top with a dash of salt. Yum.
Get it Here
Where can you buy seeds for growing popcorn? Here are some of my favorite seed sources, with links right to the popcorn pages: High Mowing Organic Seeds offers a lot of varieties, including handsome Dakota black popcorn; the company called Botanical Interests offers the lovely strawberry popcorn, which is bright red and shaped like a ripe strawberry; and Sow True Seed, in my own hometown of Asheville, N.C., offers Japanese White Hulless popcorn, which is supposed to taste delicious and which ripens in 83 days, and a heritage Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Flavored organic popcorn, ripening in 102 days.
For fun with popcorn and some popcorn recipes, visit The Popcorn Board's online consumer site.