OK, OK... So it's not exactly a discovery
-- at least not in the same fashion as, say, Columbus discovering America or
Fermilab discovering a new particle. But my discovery -- at least to
me -- is almost as significant. More on that later.
There are so many things in life that we
routinely take for granted; it would be nearly impossible to even begin to
make a list of them. But there is one little seed -- probably first
grown in Mexico -- that could easily top the list: popcorn. History
books (and online research) will tell you that popcorn has been around for
many thousands of years all over the world.
Europeans learned about popcorn from Native Americans,
who may have likely brought some of to the first Thanksgiving.
And although it is generally thought of as a snack to be enjoyed at movie
I suspect that there is a rather large segment of the population who enjoy
it on many other occasions. I am definitely part of that segment...
but my zeal for the fluffy white stuff (I don't care so much for the yellow
variety found at ball parks, theaters, etc) has led me to become something
of a popcorn fanatic, and I will search high and low to find what I consider
to be the tastiest and most tender variety.
My story starts way back in the
1950s. Our family did everything together: we never had a meal unless
all four of us -- my sister, me, and both my mom and dad -- were present.
And it should be obvious to most who can remember the 50s, that back then
there were no cell phones or electronic games (we generally made up our own
games) and the black and white television (color TV had not been invented
yet) was generally only turned on when my father watched the news or when
the Lawrence Welk Show was on... We generally had to find our own form
of entertainment. One of the things we did was to routinely take a
drive on Sunday afternoon; Sunday was definitely family time.
There were far fewer cars on the roads
back then and therefore little to no traffic and no congestion. One of
the most oft-taken excursions was the one that took us east to the town of
Wheaton. On the east end of town at 1111/4
Front St. was a very narrow little store -- it
was called "the In-between Store" -- that was always making fresh popcorn.
The place was, I think, run by two sisters. In the front of the store
was a selection of penny candy that would have driven most trick-or-treaters
crazy... In the back part of the store was a gas-fired popcorn popper,
with the owner turning the hand crank on the popcorn popper,
turning out batches of the white ambrosia faster than you could shake a
stick (a line that my father used to say -- I have no idea where it came
from...). The store, which opened in 1921, was in an alley way that
was so narrow it was almost impossible for two people to pass each other
coming into and leaving the store. As I recall, a small bag could be purchased for a dime.
A medium-size bag was 25 cents and a large bag -- which we always got -- was
only 75 cents. We would usually get four of the small bags to eat on
the way home, and then dive into the big bag later. Now those
were the days!
In later years my mom would, on a very
regular basis, make a huge batch of corn for all to share. But of
course then came high school and college and times together were less
frequent, as were the Sunday drives to Wheaton and other destinations.
None of us ever lost the taste for good popcorn; we just rarely got the time
to enjoy it as a family.
And then, in 1972, my parents found the
mother lode. Returning from a trip to California and driving along
Interstate 80, they stopped for gas at a small station and restaurant
(called the Cove) near Moscow, Iowa. My dad -- noticing the many
home-made pies on the counter -- decided this would be a good place to have
lunch (and dessert!) before continuing home to Illinois. They happened
to notice that the place sold popcorn. No, not the typical stuff of
name-brand notoriety with which most folks are familiar... jut plain old
popping corn from Iowa in clear plastic bags. They bought a big bag
and brought it home to try. And the rest, as they say, is history.
This was by far, some of the best popcorn
I had eaten since those long-past days of the Wheaton trips and "Popcorn
Sundays". This corn was the pure white variety, tender as could be,
medium in size and almost husk-less. (One of the things that happens with
most popcorn: when popped, the shell surrounding the seed breaks into two or
three pieces and the resulting husks get stuck beneath your tongue, between
your teeth or in some other, inconvenient place in your mouth. They
are almost impossible to dislodge!) The other great thing about this
corn was that, in every batch, almost every last kernel would pop...
every time. My parents were hooked, and so was I. The
only problem of course was that running out of of this treasure required a
trip to Iowa to replenish our source. The good news was that 1) the
Cove Restaurant was not that far away -- less than four hours by car -- and
my father was not opposed to making the trip.
My father died suddenly in 1976; eating
popcorn was somehow not quite the same after that, and there were no more
trips to Iowa for several years. Eventually, the trips resumed.
Maybe I needed to have my popcorn fix, but I think that somehow it was more
than that. And it wasn't just that the available popcorn was second
rate, although most of what I could find in the local stores was just plain
awful; I think there was a connection that needed to be reconnected. I
would generally make one or even two trips a year and pick up perhaps fifty
pounds per trip, as I was now distributing the unpopped corn to friends and
relatives who also marveled at how good it was. Somehow, the popcorn
had not changed in all this time -- it still had all of the abovementioned
attributes -- although the owners of the Cove had. I assumed that the
new owners kept the original source. Starting about 1996, I had
arranged with the owner to have the popcorn shipped to me -- it was easier
and I didn't always have the luxury of the time required to make the trip.
I can't even begin to imagine how many
pounds of popcorn we consumed through the years. But who needed to
keep track? All I cared about was that it was easy to procure some of
the finest popcorn anywhere. The owner of the Cove would ship me a box
of 25 pounds and include an invoice to cover the cost of the corn and
shipping. I would then send a check back. Now tell me: is that
business done the old fashioned way or what? Interestingly, we would
But then something awful happened.
My call to Jeff at the Cove (all I knew was his first name) was met by a
recording that stated: "the number you have reached is no longer in
service." I panicked. With no other option available --
other than hopping in my car for a four-hour ride -- I searched the
Internet, finally coming across the article in the Muscatine (Iowa) Journal
that created a rather large lump in my throat: "Owners of the Cove
restaurant hang up their aprons for the last time today to do something
different." I was crushed.
Having no idea what to do, I scoured maps
of Iowa, trying to figure out possible locations where Jeff had gotten his
corn. After two and a half years, I almost gave up. Having found
only one source that came even remotely close, I decided to make one final
attempt at locating the source of the best popcorn I had ever tasted since
-- believe it or not -- 1957. I contacted the author of the article I
had read in the Iowa paper. His name is Chris Steinbach and he fairly
quickly proved to me that newspapers -- and people -- can often do things
better than the Worldwide Web! He listened to my tale of woe and
offered to put a
(if you click on the link, scroll down until you see "The Place for
Popcorn") in the Muscatine Journal. Perhaps someone
would read it and be able to help. I'll admit that I had my doubts,
but less than two weeks later, my phone rang. It was Chris and he had
My apologies for making you wait until the
very end for my "discovery"... The lead took me to a very small
town in the far western portion of Iowa, and the home of Snappy Popcorn.
I managed to have a conversation with the owner and, after listening
patiently to my tale, he took the time to check his records and actually
located an invoice for popcorn sold to the Cove restaurant... I had found my
long lost source of popcorn! Obviously I immediately ordered some.
Now I can truly say that the rest is history, and this story definitely does
have a very happy ending; I now enjoy the tasty treat several times a week.
A huge thank you and debt of gratitude goes out to Chris Steinbach and the
Muscatine Journal, without whose help I would not be able to write this
article... let alone enjoy my favorite snack! And it goes without
saying that Snappy has a great product. But my joy goes far beyond
that, since the "popcorn connection" between me and my parents has now been
The Breda, Iowa Business page on the
Internet states that: "Snappy Popcorn is entirely family owned and is
entering a third generation of family operations. Snappy Popcorn is one of
the leading distributors of popcorn oil throughout the Mid-West."
More information can be found on the company website:
More importantly, the website will allow you to order some Snappy popcorn --
in sizes from microwave portions all the way up to fifty pounds. I bet
you already know what size my next order will be... Happy munching!