If you read my blog often or know me personally, you know I am a smell guy. I love good smelling smells! I can’t get enough of the aroma of ice cream, fresh doughnuts, cotton candy, and cinnamon rolls. For me, a smell always makes me associate it with something. For example, going in order with the smells I just mentioned, I think of Baskin-Robbins, Krispy Kreme, Dahlberg Arena before basketball games, and Cinnabon. There is one smell that joins the above four in my top five. This smell will make your nose curl and tingle with pleasure. Not only is the smell superb, but the taste is too (can’t say that about cotton candy…smell is always way better than the taste). But what makes me really happy about this smell is that I associate it with fun, gatherings, summer, and festivals! I don’t think about in in terms of just one place, I think about it in terms of several places. I am talking about KETTLE CORN!
So why am I on kettle corn tonight? Well, last night we honored our basketball teams for fantastic seasons. We treated the fans that came to the event with complimentary kettle corn and soda. I couldn’t help getting up from my sound spot in the arena and walking over to where the kettle corn was and helping myself. After I ate a few kernels I became immediately aware again of how much I actually love the stuff. At the same time, memories rushed through my head and my nose was filled with that sweet smell. Today at work I brought yesterday’s very nice experience back by eating some of the leftover corn from the event. With the peaceful feeling returning to my body, I knew I just had to pay homage to the king of all popcorns…kettle corn!
Probably around the time I was in fourth or fifth grade I started noticing the tents with the giant black kettles popping up at major outdoor events and festivals. Before I noticed them with my eyes, I would always become aware of them first by my nose. The sweet smell would cut through the thin warm air and hit my senses from 40 feet away, just before I looked ahead and saw the inviting scene. Upon scoping the activity at the tent out, a large group of people would always be gathered in front of the stand. Some would be purchasing giant bags of kettle corn, some would just be marveling at the scene of the person behind the kettle stirring the popcorn mix with a giant spoon, while others would be taking advantage of the free samples.
Ah yes, nothing tasted better than the free kettle corn samples. Piping hot and overly loaded with the signature sweet and salty taste, nothing could stop anyone from buying a bag after enjoying a free sample. Except for someone like me, who during those initial years never had the $4 to buy even the small bag. However, when I did have my mom or dad with me and they did in fact buy a bag, I was in heaven. In the same way that a purchased box of a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts never tastes as good as that initial warm glazed sample you get when you enter the store, the same kind of holds true for kettle corn. The bag that they give you doesn’t taste as good as the five kernel sample they drop in your hands at the tent, but it is still good. I remember walking around with my family at whatever event we were at and all five of us chaotically taking turns plunging our hands into the bag, getting as much kettle corn to drop on the ground as we actually got in our mouths.
Kettle corn definitely started off as a novelty. At first it seemed like kettle corn stands were few and far between and you could only get the yummy confection at select events but once the taste started to spread, so did the amount of stands selling it. By the time I reached high school, kettle corn was a serious business. No longer could I go to Hoopfest, a food event, or the fair and see a single kettle corn stand holding court with a line a mile long. Instead there would always be multiple stands selling the stuff, all proclaiming to have the superior product. One stand would boast putting more sugar in their mix, another stand would claim that their product was fresher, another would try to win business by selling their bags for a dollar less. I would walk down Occidental Avenue on my way into Safeco Field and there would be 10 different places just on that street where I could buy kettle corn. So just like how any new creative product starts off elusive and in high demand and then explodes and kind of oversaturates itself, kettle corn was no different. But I never tired of the taste.
What was once a product you could only get at special festivals, KC transformed in to an item that you can now pull off the shelves at a grocery store. Contrary to the ideals that made kettle corn so popular, you can go to Wal-Mart and buy a big bag of the stuff that was popped months ago in a factory on the other side of the country. Who cares if it not hot or fresh, you can still enjoy that sweet and salty taste, right? Ugh. A better option for getting that special taste when you can’t get it fresh from a stand is the microwave version. Just like any microwavable popcorn, you simply heat it up and enjoy. Although loaded with sweet goodness, the microwave version definitely tastes different from the original kettle corn. For those adventurous types, there are about a million different recipes online that you can utilize to make homemade kettle corn and you don’t even need a kettle! Unfortunately kettle corn that is shipped across country, popped in the microwave, or created at home takes away from what made it so special in the first place…the experience and excitement of buying a unique product straight from the kettle.
I will always have a special place in my heart for kettle corn and I will still even eat the imposter versions that come from the store or in microwavable bags. The nostalgia that I have engrained in my memory bank of some new and tangy popcorn coated in a salty-sugary mix and only served at special outdoor occasions will always stick with me. When I trigger this memory, I crave kettle corn like no other. Good thing we still have a couple bags still leftover in the office. Don’t Blink.