Most of us think of popcorn as a moviegoer’s snack, but it is, first and foremost, a vegetable. In its natural state, popcorn is low in calories, with 30 calories per cup if air-popped and 55 if popped in oil. And since we eat the whole kernel—bran, endosperm, and germ—it constitutes a whole grain, containing six times more fiber than an equal amount of broccoli.

Not to be confused with other kinds of corn, popcorn is a variety unto itself, different from sweet corn, field corn, and Indian corn. But not all popcorn will pop. It has to be left in the husk until weeks after the first hard freeze, when the kernels’ moisture content drops to 13 or 14 percent; only then will it burst when heated.

Susan Pope, co-owner of Pope Farms in Wiggins, grows three varieties of popcorn: traditional yellow, which has a large pop size; Japanese white, which is white on the outside and inside; and Strawberry, a reddish kernel with a small pop size. Despite their names, the fluffy part remains white in all three varieties.

While expensive contraptions abound for making popcorn, nothing beats popping it over the stove. Simply heat two tablespoons of oil and two kernels in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. When they pop, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup of popcorn and cook, covered, until the popping stops, about three to four minutes. Shake periodically to prevent scorching. Sprinkle with salt or, for a whimsical dessert, make popcorn balls by following this recipe, courtesy of Kathy Littler from the Colorado Popcorn Company in Sterling.

Popcorn Balls (makes five)

  • 6 large marshmallows
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Karo light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 ½ teaspoons water
  • 5 cups popped popcorn
  • additional butter for shaping

Combine all ingredients except popcorn in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until marshmallows are melted and mixture becomes thick. Remove from heat and pour on top of popcorn. Let cool slightly, then coat your hands with butter and form mixture into balls. Place on buttered wax paper until serving.