by Corin Hirsch
Discovering the ruby red popcorn at Hurricane Flats Farm was bittersweet. I arrived here, along the White River in South Royalton, after hearing that the farm's organic crops had been wiped out during Irene. I hoped to interview the owners, Geo Honigford and Sharon O'Connor. When I pulled into the driveway, though, no one was in sight, just two horses and acres of battered vegetables in the fields below. The door to the farm store was open.
Inside were bins of gorgeous potatoes, some late-season tomatoes and other veggies, and a wooden box filled with clear, 1.5-pound bags of brick-red popcorn kernels. Each bag was $3.
Even under the circumstances, it was a thrilling sight. For me, popcorn is crack. I can't resist it, whether I've just downed a seven-course meal or am about to interview beleaguered farmers in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Needless to say, I bought two bags even before I found Sharon O'Connor chilling on her porch after a long day of helping neighbors with flooded homes. She motioned toward the fields with a sense of weariness, and said few words about what had happened that previous Sunday. Clearly, she was exhausted. When I sheepishly mentioned the popcorn, though, she brightened, and, joking, guaranteed it would be the best popcorn I'd ever have, or they'd give my money back. Throwdown!
Down below us was a flattened stretch of corn, looking as though it was struggling to upright itself. This is the second half of this bittersweet discovery: next year's crop of ruby red popcorn was wiped out by the storm. All that remains is in the bags for sale in the farm store here.
Back at home, I prepared my corn the old-fashioned way. It's easy: Place a four-quart pan on a burner on high heat. Pour just enough grapeseed (or other) oil in the bottom to cover (1/8-1/4 inch), then drop three kernels in and close the lid. Once you hear three pops, dump in 1/2 cup of popcorn, shaking the pan to coat it with oil. Place back on the burner, hover nearby and listen.
Once the popping reaches a crescendo and then slows to one every second, remove from heat. Take the lid off immediately so the popcorn doesn't steam and get soggy. Dump into a bowl, taste some sans salt, then season away. (I like sea salt, garlic and cumin). Is it the best I've ever had? It's very, very close.
Despite the kernals' blood-red color, this popcorn bursts open to a brilliant, startling, snowy white. (My picture doesn't do it justice). The petite kernels must hold more moisture than their bigger cousins; popped, they taste richer than regular popcorn, crisp but somehow moist, and kind of nutty. Geo and Sharon advocate for just a touch of salt on top, and butter only "if you must."
I'm going to try and make my stash of ruby reds last (and maybe hit the farm store one more time) until they come around again. The folks at Hurricane Flats won't let one flood shut down 16 years of farming. They'll be back, and so will I.