Like most people who have ever been to a cinema or rented a film from a shop*, I knew what popcorn tasted like. In the cinema, it was a slightly sweet or slightly salty lump of chewy blandness. In a bucket. Served to you with all the skill of someone filling a bucket of sand for a sandcastle. In the video shops, it hung around by the tills, ready to catch your eye as you waited for the bloke behind the counter to find your film and stick it in the case. It was invariably completely encased in a crisp sugary coating, which had you bouncing off of the walls before you finished the bag.
*Let me explain children. If we wanted to watch a film, on a Saturday evening say, we would have to put on our shoes and coat, brave the elements and walk to a shop. Once there, we could pick from a disappointing range of videos. Having watched it, we had to rush it back the next morning to avoid getting charged vast sums of money in late fees. Lovefilm would have blown our minds.
I was lucky enough to receive a popcorn awakening a couple of years ago, courtesy of Mrs Running Buffet. Mrs RB decided to buy a bag of popping corn and my whole popcorn world was turned upside down. Making your own popcorn at home is incredibly easy and surprisingly fun, and it tastes so much better than the stuff you get in the cinema. Mrs RB prefers her popcorn salty (this will be important later) and tends to add a sprinkle to the corn to give it a light saltiness. Me, I like it salty or sweet, as long as it’s good.
But is it possible to buy decent popcorn? Is anyone making popcorn that is not just bland and uninteresting? I’m happy to say that the answer is yes.
As part of my new Devon A-Z challenge I asked twitter for recommendations for interesting Devon food and drink producers to try. @ParentPerspec recommended that I try Portlebay Popcorn; popcorn that is “hand popped in Devon”. Shortly afterwards, thanks to the nice people at Portlebay Popcorn, a box arrived chez Running Buffet full of bags of popcorn for me to try.
The first thing to say is that they have clearly made an effort with their product. The packaging is simple, but bright and eye-catching. I would be tempted by those bags if I saw them on a shop’s shelves.
- Classic Kracklecorn
- Applewood smoked cheddar
- Wasabi and sweet ginger
- Crispy bacon and maple syrup
- Chilli and lime
According to the information sheet that accompanied my popcorn, the Kracklecorn recipe involves “adding raw cane sugar into the pot just as the grains are popping to give a delicious, more brittle, crunchy texture”. I certainly appreciated the crunch that the popcorn has. It is a very long way away from the limp popcorn that you get in cinemas.
Mrs RB and I both tried the popcorn and there was one clear difference between us. Whilst I like it sweet, Mrs RB is a fan of salty popcorn and there is no getting away from the fact that the addition of cane sugar to the mix gives all of their flavours a definite sweetness. This is tempered by the saltiness of the bacon or the cheddar, for example, but I would say that you have to be able to take a certain amount of sweetness in your popcorn to really enjoy these flavours. For the record, the chilli and lime flavour, where the lime sourness cut through the sweetness of the sugar, was the one that worked best for Mrs RB.
My pick of the pops, on the other hand, was the applewood smoked cheddar popcorn, which has a “natural Applewood Smoked Cheddar seasoning” sprinkled over the Kracklecorn. If, like me, you don’t mind the sweetness then I think you would be more than happy with any of their range.
Having not come across Portlebay Popcorn before, I wanted to find out a bit more about them. Jonty White, a former director of Burt’s Crisps, is one of their founders and we recently swapped a few emails. I asked him about the background to setting up Portlebay Popcorn:
We started trading in January this year. I got into popcorn after owning and running a crisp brand (Burts) for ten years. Popcorn really interested me because of the obvious health benefits, it takes flavour really well and can be delicious. The challenge (which is also fun) was getting the British consumer to try something new in a category that has a reputation for producing poor and dull products (ie cinema popcorn or popcorn that is toffee in disguise).
I also love manufacturing! So setting up a production line and getting it working has been a fantastic challenge. In fact, we are one of the only popcorn brands that manufactures their own products.
So if you ever despair of terrible popcorn, then remember that there are people out there trying to do something about it. If you have ideas for a new flavour or, if you’re like Mrs RB and have definite ideas about what you want from your popcorn, then their website is asking for your feedback and suggestions. Have a look at the “flavours” page of their site for more information.
And if you would like to find out where you can pick up some popcorn, the website has a map of stockists around the UK.
Which one is your pick of the pops?