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Popcorn: some of its more sophisticated forms

It must have been a festive sight for early explorers to be greeted on North American shores by Indians wearing festoons and garlands of popcorn tossing the white kernels into the air like confetti.

Today the popcorn business is booming, and according to the Popcorn Institute , its popularity is due to electric poppers. But you can do very well with a heavy saucepan with a lid, a reliable popper used for centuries.

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Popcorn, in my opinion, is as pure as an unbroken egg. You couldn't get an additive in with a shoehorn.

Unlike caviar or Brie, the cheapest brand will give a superior performance, increasing as much as 40 times in volume. The trick is high, constant heat, and plenty of agitation.

All you need is 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, a half cup of corn kernels, a 4-quart saucepan and some frantic energy to shake the pan back and forth.

Since it's party season, let's look at some of popcorn's more sophisticated forms. Herbed Popcorn 10 cups freshly popped corn, lightly salted 1 stick butter 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 large clove garlic 1 teaspoon rubbed sage 1 teaspoon crumbled rosemary

The double dose of salt produces the best flavor. Keep popcorn warm in 250 degree F. oven. Place butter in a small saucepan or skillet and add and add garlic which has put through a press or very finely minced.

Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and herbs to the butter and garlic mixture, turn heat to moderately high and cook until the foam has subsided and the butter begins to brown.

Immediately pour over the popcorn and toss. Serve immediately, or keep warm in the 250 degree F. oven. Fruit and Nut Crunch 6 cups freshly popped corn, lightly salted 1/2 cup each shredded coconut, seedless raisins, chopped dates, walnuts or almonds 1 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup whole milk 1 tablespoon butter Grated rind 1 orange

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Add coconut, raisins, dates and nuts to popcorn in a large bowl and toss to distribute the ingredients evenly. In a small saucepan, stir sugar and milk over moderately high heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Bring to a rolling boil, turn down heat, and cook until mixture reaches 238 degrees F. on a candy thermometer or forms a soft ball in cold water.

Remove from the heat and stir in butter and orange rind. Immediately pour over the popcorn mixture and toss until everything is coated with syrup. Turn out on a sheet of wax paper and cool before eating.

If Fruit and Nut Crunch is too sticky, which may happen if the humidity is high, arrange it on a baking sheet and place in a 250 degree F. oven for 15 minutes. Popcorn Struffoli 8 cups freshly popped corn 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, or almonds 1/2 cup mixed candied fruit peel, chopped (fruitcake mix or homemade citrus peel) 1/4 cup chopped citron Grated rind of 1/2 lemon 1 tablespoon sugar 2/3 cup honey 1 tablespoon multicolored nonpareils

Keep popcorn warm in 250 degree F. oven. Place chopped nuts and fruits and citron on a piece of wax paper, sprinkle with sugar and lemon rind and stir to mix evenly.

In a small saucepan, warm the honey until it liquefies. Combine fruit peels and nut mixture and popcorn in a large bowl. Dribble the honey on and toss until the ingredients are lightly coated.

Pile on a serving dish in a pyramid and sprinkle with nonpareils. To eat, break off small pieces with fingers.

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