Saturday, November 21, 2009

Popcorn failure....yet again

A few nights ago, I made my son his first bowl of popcorn. He comes from a long line of popcorn lovers. Winter weekends at my childhood home involved my father popping a batch of corn in a pot most people would reserve for the cooking of six good-sized lobsters. He filled an enormous plastic salad bowl to the point of overflowing, and would lie on the couch with the bowl balanced precariously on his abdomen. The corn would be tossed into his mouth by the handful as he watched football or basketball. More than one emergency dental visit resulted from my father's particular love of the burned, unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bowl. With this storied heritage, how could I have not made my son a bowl of popcorn earlier? Chalk it up to gardening mother folly: I wanted his first taste to be from his own harvest.

When I ordered the popcorn from a seed catalog this past spring, it was not without anxiety. I have tried to grow corn in several different urban and suburban plots over the years, starting when I was fourteen. Whatever stalks didn't end up stunted or blown over were usually harvested by local critters just as I was planning to harvest the ears. Moreover, even if I just grew corn as a decorative element, it always ended up looking gangly and out-of-place in my beds, like an awkward teenager at a dance (on a side note, sunflowers always end up this way for me too). It was enough to make me take a hiatus from corn growing for several years.

When I moved into this neighborhood, I noticed corn growing in unlikely places -- vacant lots, for example, and cemented front yards on Pulaski Road. My neighbors from Mexico City and San Juan sniff at this -- a little bit country for their tastes. It did inspire me to reconsider corn growing, and in a bout of rage against the highly processed toddler snacks lining the shelves at the local store, I gave in and ordered a seed packet. As per usual, the first few months were hopeful and rewarding -- beautiful stalks shot up, green and true. I planted them next to the pole beans in my square-foot garden raised bed, and when I stepped out of my garage and surveyed the towering greenery I thrilled to the American-ness of it all. But I should have known better, especially about popcorn. Regular sweet corn is harvested while still green. Popcorn must be left to dry on the stalk, sitting for week upon tempting week in the late fall garden until ready to harvest. Of course, as the stalks matured and other food sources dried up, what I think were raccoons discovered the corn. Overnight, the ears were picked to shreds, with sorry, naked cobs perched on their browning stalks. My only consolation is that we picked one ear while green, so my son could see the growing kernels.

So, as movie night neared this weekend, I sighed and bought some popcorn kernels from Whole Foods. My son was excited to watch the cooking process and shoveled the popcorn in with an alacrity that would have brought tears to Granddad Dave's eyes. My handfuls had a tang of bitterness that comes only to gardeners who are continuously thwarted in their attempt to raise a plant against all odds and their better judgement. Why had I tried again? Why didn't I heed the warnings of other gardeners, who talk about raccoon-repelling techniques from electrified fences to peeing all around the base of the plants? Never again, I promised myself. Never again.

Of course, I will forget my pain and try again in a few years. Until then, the 2010 Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog just gave me a new idea: harvesting popcorn shoots as a micro-green. "The shoots are very sweet, like fresh picked corn". The sweetest taste would be my own fresh-popped kernels, but until then, this may suffice.


  1. dude. the popcorn don't need to dry on the stalk. we picked the popcorn and blue corn at school in late september and it has been drying in harvest flats in the heated boys bathroom for 2 months. no racoons, no cry.


  2. Good point....perhaps I will try again next year after all. But I don't have a heated boys bathroom....hmmm

  3. Great post. I also get so enraged at the toddler foods at the grocery store--there is literally a Cheetos-like product marketed as "cheese puffs" with all kinds of healthy indicators all over the box. Please.

    I also thought that I'd be harvesting enough wholesome, organic food to feed my son all of his first baby foods fresh, and I vastly underestimated the quantities I'd receive from my little plot. But that's why we keep coming back next year, right?