All right. No weasels this week (though I frequently see what has to be a weasel or mink near the lake). The title popped into mind while I was thinking of - yes, popcorn.
In my day popcorn was frequently strung to be used as a Christmas tree decoration. Back then (if not even further) we all made those dreadful paper chains of multi-colored construction paper though I'm beginning to suspect I was so young for those projects somebody else had to wield the scissors and cut the strips. Those chains too ended on somebody's Christmas tree. (Perhaps that's why my parents encouraged a small tree upstairs so my brother and I could live more closely with our homemade decorations.)
I decided this should be the year to try popcorn strings again, draping the rhododendron with them to encourage the birds to enjoy a different feast.
My good intentions were initially dashed when I could find little commercial popcorn that wasn't yellow. That's not what I pictured. Besides, the grocery shelves were filled with microwavable versions of the stuff. Handy for a treat, admittedly, but I couldn't wax enthusiastic for stringing buttery corn.
I did ultimately find a jar of plain ol' popcorn - even white - and then realized I had no idea how to pop it. The glass surface of my cooktop wouldn't take kindly, I imagined, to robust pan shaking. And the microwave instructions have run off with those for the dishwasher.
I did learn a lot. About popcorn, not my still-lost directions.
October was National Popcorn Poppin' Month which was fine (I guess), only the birds weren't ready and neither was I.
Apparently its origin lies somewhere in Central South America and goes way, way back. The Aztecs were so taken with it that, besides eating, they used it to make necklaces for their gods. (Is this where our tree idea came from? The stringing part?) They even wore it in their hair and made a popcorn dance. I picture the dance as very lively with lots of jumping up and down. Wouldn't you think?
Thanks to the children's page of the local paper, I also learned that popcorn was adopted by the American Indians who ground the kernels into cornmeal, and found it was good in porridge and easy to tote on their travels. Popped, it was made into soup.
This was another discovery taken back by the colonists to Europe. A food that exploded intrigued the continental mind. They ate it as a snack or with cream and sugar as a breakfast food. Come on now, doesn't all this make you feel like you've been neglecting something?
We all know sweet corn and decorative Indian corn and most of us have seen, if not tried, field corn which I do not recommend. The fourth kind is popcorn, the only type that will pop. So it's the corn itself, not the process, which turns out that delicious snack, undoubtedly also a favorite of dentists the world over.
I needn't go into details of why the stuff pops. Briefly, there's water inside that, heated, turns to steam which melts the starch which turns into goop which explodes which leaves the mushy white starch which - voila! - hardens as it cooks into the popcorn we know and love. And those birds are still waiting for.
Turns out popped corn is both good and bad. The stuff that gives it the buttery flavor (diacetyl) has been linked to Alzheimer's though any of you healthy people (like me) know it's best eaten plain anyway. A very low calorie snack, I read one serving can offer more than 70 percent of the recommended requirement of whole grain. (The same article added that the kernels are particularly high in polyphenols which I gather is terrific - if you are on very good terms with a friendly dentist. I can't recommend that.)
Just so the birds are happy. Nothing for the weasels though. Not this time.
Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org