Before you think that your microwave popcorn is a modern invention, consider its history. Yes, popcorn has a history – and it’s interesting, because popcorn links us to our pioneers and native ancestors like no other food.
Here is a brief history of popcorn.
Ancient Kernels Still Pop
When archeologists discovered prehistoric trash heaps in what is known as the Bat Cave (no association with Batman) in New Mexico in the late 1940s, they found popcorn kernels that were carbon dated to be around 5,600 years old. Guess what? When heated in oil, the kernels still popped!
In the Bat Cave, the researchers also found popped kernels of corn.
An American Phenomenon
Popcorn remained the exclusive food of Native Americans in South and Central North America for centuries. Art depicting popcorn on the headdress of the Maize god and ancient popcorn poppers (shallow pans with a hole in the top and a long handle) would indicate popcorn’s place of importance in ancient Indian culture. Young Aztec women were said to have danced while festooned with popcorn garlands.
The Spaniards were probably the first Europeans to be introduced to popcorn. In the early 1500s, the explorer Cortes observed the Aztecs using popcorn in rituals and ceremonies to honor gods of fertility, water, fishermen, and others. It was described by these early Spaniards as a “parched corn” that was “toasted…until it bursts.” The popped kernels were described as a “very white flower.” When you think about it, seeing popcorn for the first time would be very interesting indeed!
The French got in on the act in the 1700s, when they observed the Iroquois Indians popping corn over fires in pottery vessels. They are even said to have made popcorn soup out of the popped kernels.
Of course, legend has it that the English colonists were introduced to popcorn at their first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621 by an Indian named Quadequina.
Popcorn on a Large Scale
The Industrial Revolution brought with it the invention of all kinds of machines. Among them was a popcorn machine invented by Charles Cretors in 1885. These mobile machines with their wheels and gas engines became a familiar sight at recreational events like fairs, and in parks. The Cretors family still makes popcorn machines, now used in movie theaters.
Speaking of movie theaters, the presence of popcorn kept many a movie theater from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. Popcorn was also an affordable treat during this time and also during World War II, when sugar was in short supply and thus, candy treats were hard to come by.