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The Year of Popcorn
To salute popcorn, the Indiana State Fair is creating the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball – a 5,200-pound caramel-corn confection to be unveiled Aug. 2.
Snax in Pax, a popcorn manufacturer from Topeka, created half of the ball in an 8-foot-wide wooden bowl-shaped contraption using popcorn and a sugar syrup tamped down by hand, says Will Huggins, a company founder and vice president of operations.
The 2,660-pound half-ball was shipped to the fairgrounds in a refrigerated semi the second week in July. Volunteer groups will build the second half of the ball before and during the fair, he says.
The current world record, 5,060 pounds, was set in 2009 at a fair in Sac City, Iowa, Huggins says. “We didn’t know we could do it – we’d never done anything like this,” he says. “But it sounded like a fun project to be involved in. … I was honored to be asked.”
No popcorn will be wasted in pursuit of the record – the ball will be ground up and turned into animal feed, fair officials say.
In keeping with the theme, there will be popcorn stalks planted throughout the grounds and a corn maze attraction to teach about popcorn. Free popcorn will be available at the Farm Bureau Building. Visitors will be able to buy Indiana-grown or produced popcorn products at the Dupont Food Pavilion store.
Courtesy
Carrie Vollmer-Sanders’ sons Ethan, left, and Isaac are skilled at shelling the family’s gourmet popcorn.

State has ear for popcorn

Area farms, sellers keep Hoosier roots growing for snack

Vollmer-Sanders

When Carrie Vollmer-Sanders of Angola saw green popcorn seeds in a gardening catalog a few years ago, she knew she had to have some.

After all, both she and her farmer husband Ryan Sanders graduated from Michigan State University. What could be a more appropriate snack for Spartan sporting events than green popcorn mixed with white?

“If there’s such a thing as a popcorn snob, I’ve become one,” she says.

Green popcorn? Yes, there is such a thing.

There’s also blue popcorn and red popcorn and sunburst popcorn, which has yellow and red stripes on the outside. And while you’re digesting that kernel of information, here’s another – Hoosierdom is the second-largest popcorn-producing state in the nation.

Yes, popcorn has deep roots hereabouts. Orville Redenbacher was a Hoosier, after all. And isn’t Pop Weaver, based in Noblesville and with a plant in Van Buren, the largest seller of popcorn worldwide?

There’s even a brand of gourmet popcorn named Popcorn, Indiana – though that company happens to be based in Englewood, N.J. A company spokeswoman explains that the brand is named for an actual town in southern Indiana and has had former Indiana University basketball star Isiah Thomas as not only a customer but a major investor.

This year’s Indiana State Fair, open from Aug. 2 to 18, has christened its 2013 edition The Year of Popcorn, in honor of the “agricultural and economic importance” of the more than 220 million pounds of popcorn produced here annually.

That’s according to Andy Klotz, fair spokesman – and someone who can feed you enough facts about popcorn to make a full meal.

Did you know that popcorn is actually a separate variety of corn from plain old field corn (the kind that goes into animal feed and ethanol) and sweet corn (the kind folks hanker for at this time of year)?

Did you know the variety used to make movie theater and ballpark popcorn is different from that used for caramel corn? The former is called snowflake popcorn because it pops bigger and fluffier. Mushroom popcorn is used for caramel corn because it’s denser and less likely to crumble.

There’s also another type of popcorn called ladyfinger popcorn because it pops smaller and into slightly elongated, delicate shapes – this according to Sharon Yoder, an owner of Yoder Popcorn outside Topeka, which has been selling great quantities of the snack since the 1930s, when her great-uncle started the business.

Right now, she says, the one fast-growing segment of the popcorn market is in so-called designer popcorns, though some of the colorful novelty permutations are older varieties having a resurgence among people whose popcorn palates are becoming more refined.

Her company sources its popcorn within 100 miles of the plant, though not all is grown in Indiana.

Flavored popcorn is another trend – more than a dozen salts and sprinkles to top popcorn, from honey mustard to creamy dill, can be found at Yoder’s website, www.yoderpopcorn.com.

A Columbia City business, Kernel Coladas Gourmet Popcorn, sells flavored and coated popcorn and gift baskets. Another Indiana company, Not Just Popcorn in Edinburgh, has chocolate and other flavors of coated popcorn and scores of exotic flavors – green apple, Kahlua and cream, vanilla cola and blueberry cheesecake, to name a few.

But Yoder remains a popcorn purist. “I would go for the Tiny Tender White,” she says.

“I like the red for a change,” she adds. “It has a bit of a nutty taste. The blue is a little bit sweeter. We sell a lot of Tender Tiny White. It has quite a small kernel and not as much hull, and people like that.”

Popcorn, Yoder says, is a bit trickier to grow than other types of corn. The plants look different – not as tall or as robust – and the kernels are much harder.

“Popcorn has to be harder, because that’s what holds the moisture in,” she says. Popcorn needs a 13 percent to 14 percent moisture content to work, she says, because it’s the moisture inside the kernel that, when heated, expands and bursts the hull, allowing gelatinous starch to be released and harden.

You’d think that with such a hard hull, raw popcorn would be a pretty tough product, but care also has to be taken when popcorn is harvested, Yoder says.

“If when harvesting, they nick it,” she says of a kernel, “it won’t pop. It’ll make widows because it has dried out too much.

“You have to be careful how you store it,” she adds. “You can’t just dump it in a bin. … It’s more delicate to grow, and you have to put a little more work into it.”

Vollmer-Sanders and her family found that out during their four years of growing green popcorn.

The family’s two boys – Ethan, 7, and Isaac, 5 – have gotten quite skilled, she says, at shelling the popcorn.

“It’s something fun to do as a family,” she says.

So far, the family hasn’t grown green popcorn to sell commercially – it’s been just for their own use or to give to relatives and friends as gifts. Several friends with Trine University ties got pickings from an experimental batch of blue popcorn the family grew in honor of that school’s colors, she says.

Vollmer-Sanders says green popcorn is mostly just a novelty. But she adds that Notre Dame or Green Bay Packers fans might like it. And she wonders whether Baltimore Ravens or Minnesota Vikings fans might not be far behind.

By accident, she says, the family discovered that green popcorn kernels will turn purple if exposed to sunlight.

“They taste just fine, but they’re purple,” she says. “It’s just a completely new color.”

rsalter@jg.net

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