Published 10:02 am Thursday, November 1, 2018
By Stephanie Williams Dean
Bless Your Spoon
That’s the logo on the back of Janine Lewis’s tee-shirt. Apparently, thousands of bags of fun, crunchy stuff we all crave. She handed me a small bag of caramel flavored popcorn.
“I’m going to have to sample this right now, you know.”
After munching on a few buttery, caramelized pieces, I knew I was in trouble. The corn’s nothing less than addicting.
Janine is the chief cook and bottle washer of the snappy enterprise at Shallowford Farms Popcorn in Huntsville. The front of her t-shirt reads, “I do it ‘butter’ than the rest.”
As we chat, my hand to mouth action must be set on automatic – it doesn’t stop – a constant feed of sweet buttery, caramel corn. I couldn’t agree with the slogan more.
Janine does everything from hiring, handling tourism, sales and marketing, and international sales to research and development on product. She says the company just initiated an improved food safety plan to make sure cleanliness of the facility is maintained.
Nikki Day, supervisor for facility and employees, checks in Janine’s office while I’m there. She’s actually the cook…she handles the popping deck. That’s where all the machinery is, where the popcorn is popped, and oil, salt, and flavors are added.
With two women in charge, Nikki and Janine challenge themselves to stay ahead of the game. Everything is made to order so they spend a lot of time meeting their deadlines.
“She is very conscientious.” Janine pours the accolades on Nikki.
“She’s had jobs in food production prior to this one but not to the scale she’s found herself at this job.”
I take mental notes on Janine’s management style, and like good popcorn, I don’t doubt what shakes out flavors the company with palatable success.
Proudly, the company’s participates in the “Goodness Grows in North Carolina” program. They’re a farm-to-table company and a member of the NC Agricultural promotion program for farmers who grow their own product in NC.
They use butterfly corn vs. mushroom corn. All the corn is sent to a third party and tested for aflatoxin, something that can happen to corn if not maintained properly in silos. It has to be sprayed, fumigated, and cleaned before it can be made into consumable food.
The company has four major brands and a whole line of gourmet flavors – 15 to be exact – their four major brands being movie, butter, cheese, and kettle. The kettle corn and gourmet caramel lines are kosher certified foods. The company is conducting research into development of spicy cheese and salt and vinegar flavors.
The corn’s organically grown and has different flavor because real products are used such as butter, cheese, sugar, and flavoring. The product is original as almost every ingredient used in their corn is made in North Carolina.
They’ve come a long way since they started more than 30 years ago. The company began with only two flavors. Increased production has evolved over time due to demand for increased product. The public has driven the growth.
Over the last two years, they’ve definitely grown by having a customer like Food Lion, so they’ve had to grow to meet demand. Their basic flavors, the four Yadkin Valley brands, are sold in 1,108 Food Lion stores. In terms of numbers, their production has almost doubled. Another reason for growth is due to private labeling where organizations like athletic teams buy their popcorn and then sell it under another name as their own product. They’re closer to the coast, and as the only producer in the southeast, that allows for international shipments to the Caribbean, Central America, and Asia.
Another good point about their popcorn production is that nothing is wasted. Any corn that is spilled, dropped, or doesn’t meet quality standards, is put in a waste system for future use as feed for animals. Chickens, cows, horses, goats, and llamas – not just for popcorn lovin’ humans – animals love it too.
The company has a quality product that’s freshly popped when you open it. The corn’s harvested from the field by a machine. Once it comes to the facility, it’s moved around by air and gravity producing a quality product that’s a freshly popped bag. Once you open the bag, you are the first person to touch that popcorn.
Flavor-wise, the company’s influenced by customer request. Owners, Caswell Booe and his wife, Amanda, have an influence as well. Caswell has a phenomenal palate for flavors and popcorn. He knows his stuff when it comes to popcorn while Amanda is involved in the operation, too, managing relationships with the vendors who sell the flavorings for the corn.
Growth has been their biggest challenge – adapting to needs. Janine quotes her manager, Sam Vestal, “You can’t plan for today. You can only plan for tomorrow.”
His advice has helped her think about their next steps, so there’s never a knee jerk reaction to any issues that might arise. While facing many challenges, keeping goals is important to them. Every day they plan new goals for new accomplishments.
There are both funny and heartwarming moments in the popcorn business. The funnies are the people who come through – the kids who watch in amazement as the corn pops on the popping deck – their eyes big as saucers. There are many heartwarming moments when the elderly come to tour the facility. They love the vintage popcorn machines in the showroom evoking memories of their childhood. Popcorn is simply a special memory for so many people – those of popping corn over an open fire as children with their mom and pops and stringing popcorn for their Christmas trees.
Janine tells me about a married couple who come every other Monday and buy several pounds of popcorn. That’s the very bane of the lady’s existence – popcorn. They make a 45 minute drive to come there. Another lady lives in Virginia and has been ordering it online for a couple of years now. She has a retail store there and reached out wanting to sell the popcorn.
As we wrap up our chat, I stare at my empty bag of caramel popcorn. Without shame, I tell Janine, “See, I told you this stuff is addicting.”
“Are you a popcorn lover?” I ask Janine. Absolutely, she is.
“Popcorn is such a happy thing. When you think of popcorn, you’re not sad when you’re sitting there eating a bag of popcorn. You’re watching a movie or you’re at a party, birthday, or maybe a wedding. It’s a happy counterpart to so many events.”
Yes, indeed. Eating popcorn is absolutely a happy thing. People are munching down on their popcorn when they’re watching a happy movie. Have you noticed how munching stops when a sad scene pops up on the screen – the crunch of popcorn bags falls silent too.
While laughing, we recite the many ways folks eat their favorite snack…one kernel at a time, by the handfuls, throwing their heads back as they sprinkle it in their mouths, or tossing it in like a hoopshot in a basketball goal – some enjoy mixed flavors, while others prefer candy mixed in.
I know all about how that goes down.
“My big crave is Milk Duds. The ooey-gooey, chocolate and caramel mixed with buttery popcorn are inextricable linked together – it’s my addictive duo,” I confess to Janine.
I asked a few pop stars around town to see what sweet stuff they liked to eat with their popcorn while watching movies at the theater. Here’s how they dished on their favorite combos.
Beth Edwards, principal at Central Davie Academy, fessed up” “That would have to be peanut M&M’s. I’m kind of a candy-aholic. I can eat it anytime, anywhere – I eat it for breakfast sometimes. I like Milk Duds, too – I really like chewy candy. And any chocolate except dark chocolate. I’m a candy expert, an addict. I know the 12 steps, and I’m acknowledging I have a problem.”
“I like Nestle Crunch Bar. I really like the salty and the sweet together,” said Sidniee Suggs, director of the DAvie Arts Council.
Carolina Moser, president of the Davie County Chamber of Commerce shared her plan. “OK, I totally can do this – my favorite thing depends on the day and what kind of mood I’m in. If it’s a good day, I eat Reece Pieces with popcorn. Sometimes, I’m weird and want hot flavor. If I’m craving spicy, I have a little travel bottle of Texas Pete I put all over my popcorn. I carry it in my big purse to the theater. Oh, yes and diet soda.”
“Butterfingers. You put the Butterfingers, the chocolate with the popcorn, and make a little ball in your mouth – you get the sweet and the salty and the chocolate all mixed together. And I have to have a Dr. Pepper to go with it – the real thing – no diet,” said Kae Stockton, owner of Gemini Salon.
“That’s a tough one. I think probably Mounds bar. I love that coconut. I usually do butter. It takes me days to get popcorn out of my teeth – I used to eat it all the time. I wasn’t expecting such a fun question on this rainy Friday,” said Jane McAlister, director of the Davie County Public Library.
Tami Langdon, community development coordinator for Mocksville, laughed, saying: “Popcorn with candy corn and peanuts – I like a trail mix at the theater. The kids like popcorn loaded in oil – the butter. And anything dark chocolate like Hersheys.”
“I like the Almond Joy or Mounds bar,” said Rita Reavis, owner of Snooks Old Fashioned BBQ. I tell her I’ve never tried coconut with popcorn. “You’ve never had that?” she asks me, surprised. “Well, Holy Moly – Kit Kat’s good with it, too. I do it even when I’m at home.”
Pat Reagan, Mocksville assistant police chief, who isn’t too fond of movie theaters, replied: “Oh wow, I always find it best to mix popcorn and chocolate – it makes the movie at a theater more palatable to me. Actually, I prefer watching movies at home – I like to make kettle corn popcorn. It always has the sweetness already with it, but I manage to find some chocolate, too.”
There were a couple of folks when asked what candy they liked to eat with their popcorn, replied nothing except a liberal coating of the yellow, buttery stuff.
Jane Simpson, president of the Davie Community Foundation, sighed: “Oh well, you might not like my answer. I just like my own bowl with butter. My husband’s the same, but we each have to have our own personal bowl.”
“Lots of butter. I don’t eat salt – oh my goodness – every now and then I have to indulge in some of the good stuff with salt and butter. I have great memories of popping it on a stove and pouring real butter over it,” said Barbara Owens, Davie County School Board member. I could see her smile broaden as she recounted the memory.
While many can’t pass by a candy counter at the theater without giving in – not a single one of us could bypass the warm memories or happy smiles the question evoked. No denying it – with thoughts of popcorn, everyone’s face breaks out in a grin. It’s just fun.
Davie County resident, Joe Murphy, a retired engineer for Western Electric, shared a few of his memories as a 12-year-old boy working at the movie theater in Mocksville from 1946 to around 1952.
“Uptown, the general store in downtown Mocksville used to be the Princess Theater. We were open Monday through Saturday – not open on Sunday. The movie played from 1-11 p.m. and was usually a Western – it played over and over. The theater held about 100 people or so at one time, and shows ran about 6 times a day. It was a big thing on Saturday afternoon, and everyone would come downtown – sometimes the line to get in went all the way down and wrapped around the corner to where the restaurant is now. Movies were 10 cents for children and 35 cents for adults. We only sold popcorn – we popped 100 pounds of popcorn or 1,200 boxes – and sold them for 10 cents a box. We popped it outside, and it stayed out on the sidewalk all day- they’d buy it all day long, on their way in or out. You could smell it all over town.”
30 cups of popped popcorn
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
1½ tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter
½ tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. butter Flavor
1½ tsp. rum flavor
Place the popped popcorn on two large baking trays. Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat while stirring to blend. Bring to a boil and boil for 4 minutes, while stirring continuously. Remove from heat, and stir in baking soda and vanilla. Mixture will bubble. Immediately our over the popcorn in the pans and stir to coat. Bake in a 200-degree oven for 45 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes. When done, separate pieces as much as you can before it cools.
POPCORN CANDY CORN BALLS
6 Tbsp. popcorn kernels
¼ cup peanut oil
½ cup sugar
1 cup candy corn
½ cup salted, roasted peanuts
4 cups mini marshmallows
4 Tbsp. salted butter
To a large heated pot, add the popcorn kernels and peanut oil. When oil sizzles, sprinkle sugar over the kernels. Cover with a lid and shake the pot for 8 minutes or until popping slows down. Remove from heat and cool. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Add the popcorn, candy corn, and peanuts. In another pot, combine the marshmallows and butter over high medium-high heat. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until smooth. Pour melted marshmallow mixture over popcorn mixture. Toss to coat. With hands coated in oil, shape into 4 inch ball while warm. Cool.
12 cups popped popcorn
2 cups miniature pretzels
1 cup toasted pecan halves
¼ cup melted butter
4 oz. chopped, white candy coating
2 oz. chopped milk chocolate candy coating
In a large bowl, combine popcorn, pretzels, and pecans. Drizzle with butter and toss. In a microwave, melt white candy coating for 1 minute and stirring. If necessary, continue to microwave at intervals until smooth. Drizzle on popcorn mixture, and toss to coat. Spread popcorn mixture on foil lined baking sheets. Melt milk chocolate coating and stir until smooth. Drizzle over popcorn mixture. Let stand until set.
CARAMEL POPCORN BALLS
3 (3.5 oz.) bags popped, plain microwave popcorn
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup salted butter
1 cup light corn syrup
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
In a large bowl, place popcorn. In a sauce pan, combine brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup. Bring mixture to a boil while stirring. Stir in condensed milk. Bring to a boil again and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and pour over popcorn. Coat evenly. Shape into a ball.
POPCORN MARSHMALLOW BARS
Salted butter for greasing
½ cup popcorn kernels or one 3.5 oz. pkg. plain microwave popcorn
10 oz. bag marshmallows
2 Tbsp. salted butter
Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pop the popcorn according to directions. In a large sauce pan, melt the butter and marshmallows for 5-7 minutes until smooth. Stir in the popcorn until coated. Press into prepared dish. Allow to sit for 30 minutes, and then cut into bars.
Tips: Stop by, and visit the Shallowford Farms Popcorn showroom at 3732 Hartman Road, Yadkinville, NC, or schedule a tour by calling (336) 463-5938. You’ll be glad you did.