I was first informed of kettle corn a few years ago by my parents, who
had reported to me about an amazing CrackerJack-like
confection that had been prepared before their eyes by a "cowboy" at
the local agricultural fair. With nothing more than a leg-sized
wooden spoon and a massive copper pot, they told me, he prepared batch
after batch of the magical stuff, selling all he could make on the
spot. They went on and on about it, surmising about how the sugar
must flash caramelize as the corn pops, waxing on the perfect balance of
salty and sweet, and even going so far as to confess that they had
meant to give me a large bag of it as a gift. The bag had indeed
been purchased, but owing to a tragic driving accident -- something
along the lines of "we got hungry on the way home" -- it never reached
So it was only recently that I witnessed the kettle corn experience
firsthand. Basically, a guy sets up a booth at a fair or town
festival, fills it with two giant kettles (one for popping and one for
holding the finished product), places a portable blast furnace under the
popping kettle, and finally hangs up a sign saying "Kettle Korn" or
"Copper Kettle Corn" or "Cowboy Kettle Corn Kernels O' Gold" or
something of equivalent marketing brilliance.
Then he rakes in money as fast as people can throw it at him.
For those of you who have experienced kettle corn firsthand, you
know what I'm talking about. For those who haven't, here's the quick
Last Friday, for instance, I was at an apple harvest festival in
Pennsylvania. It's a big event for the community and draws in a few
hundred craftspeople, performers, and food vendors, all of who set up
shop for the weekend. This year, guess who showed up? That's right,
a kettle-corn guy. As I waited in line to get my kettle corn at 3:30
in the afternoon, I studied the flow of his business. He sold bags of
corn non-stop, on average one $4 bag every twenty seconds. That's $12
per minute or -- and here's where it gets scary -- over $700
- This stuff is tasty.
- The act of making it is simultaneously dangerous, bizarre, and impressive.
- The act draws crowds. Hungry crowds.
- By the time a batch is finished, people are already lined up to
- They buy it. All. Before you can get any.
- You curse them -- and get in line for the next batch.
Now, granted, his wife was helping (she sold the corn while he made
it) which halves the profit, but that's still an insanely large amount
of money. Even when I factor in the off season and non-peak hours,
Mr. K. Corn's success certainly puts my years of engineering studies and
hard-won software experience into new perspective. Why am I writing
software, suffering the fickle demands of Fortune-500 clients, when I
could be a high-society Kettle Corn Man, rubbing shoulders with the
elite of the booth-based food service world?
Of course, there are the risks. I could die in a freak
caramel explosion, or, even worse, topple into the kettle. And
success does have its price. Perhaps a disgruntled funnel-cake vendor
would seek to rub me out. At the apple festival I overheard an
envious pizza vendor making unkind remarks about the success of the
k-corn vendor. As a K-Corn Man, I would doubtless face the same ill
will. But I'm strong. I could take it. And what great victory doesn't
require a struggle?
K-corning on the side, I would be a man of independent means. No
more would I be reliant upon clients for income. Why, I could k-corn
during the summer months and code all through the off-season on my
k-profits, working on whatever projects I wanted. Linus might turn
down my patches today, but tomorrow, when I'm a K-Corn King, would he
dare? Not a chance.
By now, maybe you're thinking of getting in on the k-corn action,
yourself. Any why not, right? What open source project couldn't use
a reliable stream of funding? -- not to mention, an endless supply of
piping hot k-corn to feed the coding troops? Yes, perhaps you've got
k-corn in your eyes...
Well, Bub, get in line. As a quick search on Google recently
showed me, Kettle Corn is big business. It seems that everybody wants
to cash in on America's new addiction. Google returns over 2000 hits
for "kettle corn" and over 1500 for "kettle korn," most of which
are kettle corn vendors.
And, before you jump behind a giant kettle and fire the burners, my
friend, you should know about the dark side of the k-corn world.
K-corn is addictive, no doubt about it, and there are those who would
exploit its addictive properties to line their pockets. Certainly,
kettle corn is no crack, but until crack comes fresh from a kettle
with a hot-n-crunchy, sweet-n-salty coating, kettle corn will make a
So far, because k-corn has stayed mainly in rural areas, it has
avoided the FDA's scrutiny. Unfettered by regulation, it has raced
across America, addicting farm folk and craft-show attendees
nationwide. Meanwhile, the kettle-corn underground has run wild. Made
brazen by their unchecked success, many vendors have eschewed the more
subtle addiction-marketing practices of Big Tobacco, instead
boldly proclaiming their goal of world domination through addiction.
Think I'm kidding? Perhaps you should check out www.kettlecornmachine.com.
When was the last time you saw a Flash animation dedicated to
"Spreading the addiction," complete with waterfalls of dollar signs,
and the unmistakable cash-register ka-ching?
What's worse, The
Bulletin of Bend, Oregon is reporting that some vendors, much
like tobacco companies that artificially raise their cigarettes'
nicotine content, are spiking k-corn with a special "secret
ingredient" that is designed to increase the already crack-like
corn's addictive properties:
A fair snack food that grows ever more popular is
kettle korn. The popping is done in a large copper kettle, then tossed
with a stream of sugar, a touch of salt and a secret ingredient that
seems to be the root of addiction.
When will the madness stop? How many farm hands and flea-market
bargain hunters will have to suffer at the salty (and delightfully
sweet) claws of this new menace before we wake up? Kettle Corn is not
our friend! Kettle Corn is not our friend! Kettle Corn is not our
Perhaps I was wrong to be lured so willingly into the sweet,
caramelly embrace of the big K.C. Perhaps the easy riches of the
kettle-corn lifestyle come at a price too high for my conscience to
pay. And perhaps America can't afford to loose another hunter or
seamstress, truck driver or schoolteacher, veterinarian or tractor
salesperson, to this new, true enemy. In the fight against Kettle
Corn, we need every hand we can get.
Forgive me, friends, for having been swayed by the salty-sweet
kernels of doom. I promise, my next bag will be the last.