Boy Scouts love popcorn. That's why it's only natural that troops throughout the Salt Lake Valley, all members of the Great Salt Lake Council, enthusiastically engage in an annual popcorn-peddling fund-raiser.

To kick off the recent event, the council conducted the first annual Popcorn Cookoff, a contest for Scout leaders. More than 25 entries were submitted.Drew Peck, Webelos leader of Troop 3189 in Magna, created a top-prize popcorn cake - one with the usual sugar, eggs, butter, flavorings and frosting - but made with popcorn flour.

"I ground the whole kernels of popcorn until I had flour. It was a coarse flour and took twice as long as grinding wheat, but it was interesting to work with," Peck explained.

Peck adjusted a cornbread recipe, adding popcorn flour in place of cornmeal.

"It was a dense cake; I mean really heavy. I made three before all the ingredients worked together correctly," Peck admitted.

In a contest heavily weighted for originality, Peck's idea topped the list.

Topping the list of favorite popcorn flavors is caramel, according to Risha Wallick of Classic Corn, ZCMI Center.

The gourmet popcorn shop features more than 40 plain, seasoned, glazed or nut flavors, but caramel bags fill more frequently than any other flavor.

Popcorn eaters also are increasingly health conscious, Wallick said.

"Many of our customers come for lunch, order a bag of seasoned popcorn and call it a meal. When they eat pizza- or our new lasagna-flavored corn, psychologically they're full. They feel like they've eaten a whole meal for only 68 calories."

Wallick's popcorn is air-popped without any oils, an innovation that elevated popcorn to perfect diet or snack/meal status. A single air-popped serving can be particularly satisfying when a seasoning has been applied.

You don't have to be a Scout or on a diet to sit down and thoroughly devour a bag of popcorn, air-popped or not.

Popcorn is one of the most popular snack foods in the country.

A movie, whether at the theater or on home video, now seems incomplete without popcorn. The same can be said for football games and the circus or at Halloween.

But Wrede Smith, president of Jolly Time Popcorn, recalled the time before the movie/popcorn connection became a national pastime.

"In the late 1920s, popcorn was a hit all by itself by virtue of the popcorn stand or wagon located on the corner of Main Street, U.S.A. Every town in the country, big or small, had a local popcorn stand or wagon vendor located in the heart of the business district."

As a youngster, Smith and his friends would go to the popcorn stand located outside the movie theater; the owner would load their arms with boxes of popcorn. The boys would wander up and down the theater aisles selling the popcorn. The vendor paid them with pennies or free popcorn.

Moving popcorn from Main Street to the inside of

movie theaters seemed logical. In 1925, Charles T. Manley of Butte, Mont., perfected the first electric popcorn machine and sold it to movie theater operators. Through the 1950s, two-thirds of the popcorn sold in America was purchased at the movies.

Now, according to Orville Redenbacher, 70 percent of purchased popcornis consumed at home. A whopping 13.9 billion quarts of popped corn were swallowed by Americans in 1989, the equivalent of 56 quarts for every man, woman and child.

Have we raised a nation of popcorn lovers?

Sue Spitler and Nao Hauser, authors of "The Popcorn Lover's Book," suggest a list of criteria to identify the legitimate popcorn lover. You're a popcorn lover if:

- You've ever measured an evening's hours by the bowlful;

- You've ever listened for the sound of your favorite snack;

- You've ever stopped beneath a movie marquee just to sniff the popcorn inside;

- You recall the crunch of your first movie date;

- Saturday nights once meant "Perry Mason" and popcorn;

- You raced your brothers and sisters to the bottom of the bowl;

- The circus bleachers were strewn with crushed kernels;

- You can still feel sticky caramel in the palm of your hand;

- A happy ending made you cry, and you reached for the popcorn so no one would see.

If you qualify, you may want to pick up either of a pair of cookbooks to verify your designation:

- Spitler and Hauser's paperback published by Contemporary Books, Chicago, contains more than 100 recipes and retails for $5.95.

- "For Popcorn Lovers Only," by Diane Pfeifer, Strawberry Patch Press, Atlanta (paperback, $9.95), divides recipe sections into whimsical chapters like "Popping Through the Ages," "Pop Around the Clock" or "Dentists' Delight." The collection also contains more than 100 recipes.

Additional popcorn recipes are available at a minimal charge from popcorn distributors.

Send a proof of purchase and 25 cents for postage and handling to Jolly Time Recipes, P.O. Box 178, Dept. N90, Sioux City, IA 51102, for a copy of the "Collection of Homemade Family Recipes from Jolly Time Popcorn."

"Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Guide to Popping Corn" is available by sending 75 cents for postage and handling to Orville Cookbook Offer, P.O. Box 8534, Young America, MN 55351-8534.

Though popcorn engineering has advanced, weather interferes with the harvest from year to year. Some years the harvest is greater and tastes better.

Storing popcorn for extended periods of time, particularly in this climate, is not advised. Popcorn pops because there is moisture inside each kernel; when heated, the moisture turns into steam power and explodes. When the popcorn dries out, it simply runs out of steam. This leads to unpopped kernels, or grannies.

If you notice incomplete popping, the Popcorn Institute recommends that "you fill a one-quart jar three-fourths full with popcorn and add one tablespoon of water. Cover the jar and shake it frequently, about every five or 10 minutes until all the water is absorbed. In two to four days, the popcorn should revive."

Fresh popcorn pops about 97 percent of the time and if refrigerated and stored in an airtight container, should keep for a year.

Knowing Scouts like we do, it's unlikely extra popcorn could be stored for a year. Somehow, Scouts and the rest of us keep on poppin'.



Oven-Baked Caramel Corn

Microwave Caramel Corn

Herb-Seasoned Popcorn

Halloween Popcorn Cake

Popcorn Snowballs

Peanut-Buttered Popcorn

Heavenly Popcorn