Wednesday, October 5, 2011

maple and cinnamon

On Saturday, we all went to the annual Mennonite Relief Sale. It’s a big-time event, with a huge auction, lots of baked goods, ethnic food, fun stuff for kids, and so on, with all proceeds going towards Mennonite Central Committee, our church’s relief organization.

In other words, the more donuts you buy, the more you help the poor.

It seems kind of screwy to me, this type of do-gooderism. All the clapping and cheering when a quilt bid shoots up over the thousand dollar mark. The sugar highs, the bloated stomachs, the cheap toys that will soon find their way to a landfill. Is this really an effective way to alleviate poverty?

Yes, yes, it’s about community, I know. It’s about a bunch of people rallying for a common cause. It’s festive, kind of like a huge family reunion, and I haven’t missed the weekend for years.

It's tons of fun, but still, it makes me feel funny.


Anyway, it was while I was standing outside the hamburger and hotdog stand waiting for my son to finish up his shift that I had an important conversation with my friend. It was about popcorn. (I think it’s safe to say that everything in my life revolves around food, yes?)

We were discussing kettle corn (which was being sold there, but of course), and she said her family had recently started making popcorn with maple sugar. “I pop the corn in coconut oil, and we add a couple spoonfuls of maple sugar and some cinnamon to the kernels. Then when it’s done, we add butter and salt, too.”

“Cinnamon?” I asked, not really paying attention. I wasn’t trying to be rude. It’s just that we were surrounded by hundreds of fellow Mennonite, and I was a little distracted.

“Oh yes, it gives it a nice flavor.”

“Mm. Maple and cinnamon, it does sound good.....” My eyes and mind were wandering again. I forced them to focus. “But don’t you have trouble with it burning?”

“No, we just shake and stir the whole time. The popcorn starts to stick together because of the sugar, so you have to get it out of the pan as soon as it’s done.”

“Mmm... Hey, who’s that woman over there?" I said, because I really can't carry on a conversation and people watch at the same time. "Does she look familiar to you?”


By bedtime that night, the too-many-donuts-and-potato chips feeling had faded, but the passing popcorn conversation lingered. And as it lingered, it intensified, so that by the following night, after I had made a triple batch of sweet and spicy popcorn and a triple batch of regular butter popcorn (that’s three cups of kernels, eek), I grabbed the bag of homemade maple sugar out of the freezer and set the popper back on the burner for one more batch of popcorn.


And, wow! Holy kerpopping corn! Not only did my husband tell me he liked it, he made eye contact with me while saying so. And folks, when I get the eye contact, it means something is seriously good.


I made the popcorn again on Monday because we were having a rough day and because I wanted to do a post about it (the popcorn, not the day) and because I didn’t eat enough for lunch and supper wasn’t coming around fast enough (probably because I was making popcorn) and because I really, really wanted to taste that maple-y sweet saltiness again.


The melted maple sugar does this fantastic thing where it coats the kernels with a crust so faint and delicate that it disappears with the first bite. And the maple-cinnamon flavor is profoundly delicious but so mild that it makes you want to cram handfuls of the stuff into your mouth on the off chance you might capture more of its ethereal sweetness. But no matter how much you cram, the flavor remains aloof, more an essence than a solid taste. Such a tease!


Maple Sugar and Cinnamon Popcorn
As half-heard from my friend Kris

This is the first (and second) time I’ve ever made kettle corn successfully and it’s all because of my whirley-pop. I’m in love with my whirley-pop and I’m even more in love with it now that I know it can turn out such awesome popcorn.

½ cup popcorn kernels
1-2 tablespoons coconut oil
3-4 tablespoons maple sugar
1/3 - ½ teaspoon cinnamon
2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
coarse salt

Put the popper on medium-high heat and add the coconut oil. When the oil is good and hot, dump in the popcorn kernels, maple sugar, and cinnamon. Stir without ceasing until the popping has stopped. Immediately dump the popcorn into a large bowl and toss with melted butter and salt.

This same time, years previous: rustic cornmeal soup with beet greens, donuts, sweet rolls

8 comments:

  1. Maybe this is a silly question... but what is maple sugar?

    Thanks!
    Julie

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  2. Not silly at all, Julie! Maple sugar is sugar made from maple syrup. Look for it in specialty stores, but be forewarned, it's super-expensive. (Mine was a gift, a most glorious gift---from Kris, no less. I've been hoarding it.)

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  3. How much does it cost? Because I NEED to make this popcorn!!!!!

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  4. A whirley pop is? I have an air popper. Can this be done on the stove in a pot?

    Judi

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  5. Karen, About 16 dollars a pound, but you could find smaller containers for five or six dollars.

    Judi, I've never been able to make kettle corn in a pot, but I'm sure some people do. It would probably depend a lot on what kind of a pot you have. The thing is, you need to stir the popcorn the whole time, so unless you have a cavernous kettle, you'd probably end up with sugary popcorn all over the kitchen floor.

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  6. Thanks for the maple sugar info! I will look for it. I wonder if you could do it with maple cream? If you could just add some to the pot and let it melt down or melt it down and pour it over the popped corn?
    Also, I make kettle corn in a pot all the time! It is super easy. Just put the oil, sugar and salt in the pot, let it get a bit hot, add in the pop corn, put the lid on and when it starts to pop, just shake it and keep shaking it. When the popping slows, pour it out into a bowl and add in whatever you would like. I read about it on Joy the Baker's website. She had a good tutorial on how to do it with a pot.
    --Julie

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  7. Julie, Wouldn't the maple cream make it too wet?

    I, too, followed Joy the Baker's instructions for kettle corn...several times. The popcorn always burned horribly. I'm guessing my kettle bottom was too thick maybe?

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  8. I guess you just never know how a casual conversation by the hamburger stand might end up recalled (and rearranged) in print.

    Maple sugar is uniquely delicious, but one could easily use a more commercially available dark sugar such as regular brown or something more fair trade/organic like Rapadura or Sucanat. I learned how to make my own sugar from maple syrup because my husband is from northern NY and has ready access to plenty of syrup. Much cheaper if you make your own, and it's lots of fun for kids to help with the stirring and sifting of lumps.

    I make maple popcorn in my small pot on the stovetop. Using 2-4 Tbsp coconut oil with 1/4 cup popcorn, I add 2 Tbsp sugar and stir, holding the lid overtop my stirring hand so I don't get splattered when they start popping. I DO remove my stirring spoon when popping begins, and cover with lid. I do shake the pot gently over the burner (electric, not gas -- not sure how gas might change the equation) and keep a very close watch while popping. The 1/4 cup corn makes an almost full pot for me, so I empty it just as soon as it's nearly full and the popping slows. If I leave the pot on the heat a moment too long, the sugars start burning and the bottom layer tastes not so great. Then a bit of salt and we're off.

    Yes, Jennifer's recipe above is really a combination of the two ways I use maple sugar on popcorn. When I make kettle corn, I put maple sugar in the pot and sprinkle only with salt at the end. Alternately, if I don't feel like dealing with the potential for burnt sugar, I just make a regular batch of popcorn and top with butter, a little salt, a few spoons of maple sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon. But hey, whatever works is great! I'll have to try Jennifer's version next time and add cinnamon to the pot as well.

    Kris

    P.S. I think it might work to use maple syrup or maple cream instead of sugar. Maple syrup still contains 33% water, so you'd need to stir a little longer, I think, while the water quickly evaporates. Maple cream has less water (maybe none left?) and so would very likely work in the same way that sugar does, only a quicker melt than sugar, since it isn't granulated. Try in small batches (1/4 cup popcorn, 2 Tbsp maple, or half those amounts) to test first. Actually, if you try maple syrup, use less than 2 Tbsp, because 2 Tbsp maple SUGAR is the equivalent of LESS than 2 Tbsp maple SYRUP. (See, the water is boiled off the syrup, but then the sugar granulates and gets all puffy like sugar does, so the quantity of sugar in 2 Tbsp maple SUGAR is less than the quantity of sugar in 2 Tbsp maple SYRUP. There, are you all mixed up now?)

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