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Having lived my entire life in North America, I don’t think twice about how much corn is in our diet. Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma talks in great detail – probably more than you want to know – about how much corn and corn by-products are in the North American diet.
After all, corn is a North American crop that didn’t make its way to Europe until the 16th century. In culinary school, the chefs talked about this when we learned about creme patissiere, one of the basic creams from which you can make all kinds of tasty things. Creme patissiere is a mixture of egg yolks, milk, sugar, and a thickening agent. Before the introduction of corn, European pastry chefs used flour to thicken their creme patissiere, which worked just fine. However, modern-day creme patissiere recipes call for cornstarch as a thickener, because it has better binding properties. I had one chef swear by a half-and-half mixture of the two.
So last night, I was at a friend’s potluck (hi Colleen!) and the highlight of the evening was when a Frenchman, an Austrian and an Australian gathered around the stove to prepare a batch of Jiffy Pop. I don’t know what was more fun – watching the foil expand, or watching the reactions of the non-North Americans as the foil expanded.
As an aside, does anyone else think that Jiffy Pop looks like a brain? I mean, there’s this bulbous foil thing, and when you first open it (and the foil is still structurally intact), the mass of kernels really looks like brains. If that sounds gross, don’t worry. This moment of observation is usually pretty brief, because people rip open the foil and eat the popcorn – and then there’s no more brain.