January 19: What’s Popping on National Popcorn Day

Today’s the day! And if you’re wondering what today is, it’s popping day!

What’s popping?

There are six kinds of corn but only one of them can pop. Popcorn (the one that pops) is a maize plant with the scientific name Zea mays everta. Most of the popcorn in the world is grown in Nebraska and Indiana but farmers in Illinois and other Midwestern states also grow popcorn.

Popcorn plants can grow to over six feet tall and they also thrive in sandy soil which is not ideal for most other crops.

Americans eat more popcorn than anyone else in the world. Even our microwaves have special popcorn buttons.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popcorn is a favorite snack for many families and comes in a few different colors including red, blue, yellow, and white. It is easy to eat while playing cards or board games. Most people know popcorn is a favorite snack at sporting events and movies.

What makes popcorn a great snack?

It is a whole grain which means it contains the germ, endosperm, and pericarp (also known as the hull) and it is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn has 30 calories per cup. Oil-popped popcorn has 35 calories per cup. It also can be flavored with different herbs and spices to fit your taste or mixed with dried fruit, nuts, and cereal for a quick trail mix.

To keep popcorn as a healthy snack, be careful when adding salt and butter as they will add sodium, fat, and calories.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes popcorn pop?

To look at what makes popcorn pop, we first have to understand what a popcorn kernel is made of. A popcorn kernel is composed of three main parts:

  • Germ
  • Endosperm
  • Hull/pericarp

The germ is found inside the shell and is considered the living part of the plant. The endosperm (also inside the shell) is a starchy area that provides nutrients for the germ. Finally, the hull is made of cellulose an indigestible sugar, and provides the hard outer shell. In popcorn, the hull is harder and thicker than in other types of corn.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why does popcorn pop?

A popcorn kernel must be able to withstand enough internal pressure for it to explode into our beloved snack. Popcorn’s thick hull is what allows this to happen. When you heat a kernel in the microwave, the microwaves transfer energy in the form of heat to the water inside the kernel.

The water absorbs the heat and it turns to steam and expands thus increasing the pressure inside the kernel. The pressure builds up inside of it to the tune of about 135 pounds per square inch.

This means that one little kernel explodes after resisting over 4 times the pressure inside car tires! When the pressure builds to an amount the hull can no longer contain, it explodes open resulting in a piece of popcorn.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How high can popcorn pop?

Popping an afternoon snack of popcorn in the microwave generally isn’t a messy affair considering most popcorn cooking is contained in a bag. But if it wasn’t, you might have to watch out for flying kernels since popcorn can pop as high as 3 feet while it transforms from kernel to puff.

However, the tiny grains don’t just fly straight skyward as they expand; high-speed recordings of popcorn, as it cooks, show that the kernels actually flip like a high-flying gymnast thanks to starches that push off a cooking surface and propel the corn into the air. 

The way popcorn transforms from a hard nugget to a soft and springy morsel can seem like magic except scientists say it’s really just a trick caused by heat and pressure. As mentioned above each kernel has three parts: the germ (seed) found deep within the shell, the endosperm (a starch section used to nourish the germ if planted), and the pericarp (aka the hard exterior).

Moisture and starch are also packed into each tiny kernel; when heated, that microscopic amount of water creates pressurized steam. By the time a popcorn kernel reaches 350 degrees, the pressure is too much to contain and the pericarp explodes causing the starchy endosperm to expand outward. When the process is finished, the resulting popcorn has puffed up to 40 times its original size.

While the popcorn industry strives to get 98 percent popability from each bag of kernels, there’s likely still going to be duds at the bottom of the microwave bag. In those cases, it’s likely the pericarp was cracked or the kernel didn’t have enough internal moisture, both of which prevent any pressure buildup—which means that no amount of extra microwaving will give you a few more bites.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popcorn pops into two distinct shapes

When popcorn is all lumped together in a bowl, it just looks like… popcorn. But an up-close inspection shows that kernels pop into one of two shapes transforming into butterflies and snowflakes (winged, multifaceted shapes) or mushrooms (rounded puffs).

Butterflies occur when the popped kernel turns inside out while mushrooms are created when the kernel’s endosperm expands instead of flipping. Generally, mushrooms are sturdier and can withstand the additional cooking process to become caramel or kettle corn.

Whether your bowl of popcorn gets more mushrooms or butterflies mostly depends on factors uncontrollable from your kitchen like the popcorn plant’s genetics or how much water the plant received while it was growing in the field.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun facts about popcorn

  • According to the USDA, Nebraska and Indiana grow most of the popcorn
  • Nebraska produces an estimated 250 million pounds of popcorn per year—more than any other state
  • Americans eat around 17 billion quarts of popcorn every year; this amount would fill the Empire State Building 18 times
  • Popcorn can pop up to three feet in the air
  • If you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles, you would need more than 352,028,160 popped kernels
  • General Mills patented the first modern microwave popcorn bag in 1981
Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popcorn is not just for eating

Check out the following ideas for other ways to use popcorn:

  • Stringing popcorn: These can be hung outside for birds to eat or hung on your Christmas tree
  • Popcorn air hockey: Use a straw to blow the kernels back and forth or your hands as paddles to volley the kernel back and forth 20 times without letting it fall
  • Popcorn relay race: In teams, use spoons to transport popcorn back and forth
  • Popcorn basketball: Flick a piece of popcorn into the basket (muffin tins, small cups or your own mouth)

By the way, I have another post on National Popcorn Day: January 19: However You like Popcorn Enjoy It TODAY on National Popcorn Day

Related popcorn days

  • National Caramel Popcorn Day (April 6)

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever pondered the miracle of popcorn? It starts out as a tiny, little, compact kernel with magic trapped inside that when agitated, bursts to create something marvelously desirable. It’s sort of like those tiny, little thoughts trapped inside an author’s head that―in an excited explosion of words―suddenly become a captivating fairy tale!

―Richelle E. Goodrich

November 5 is National Donut Day Celebrating the Actual Donut

The icing and the dough cause celebration on the palate!

Who doesn’t love a good donut? The kind that melts in your mouth as soon as your palate reaches the icing! The icing and the dough cause celebration to savor.

National Donut Day (also known as National Doughnut Day) on November 5 is one of two observed by donut lovers across the nation. The first Friday in June is the other day donuts steal the bakery case spotlight ready to tease their way into the white bakery box and go home!

History disputes the origin of the donut. One theory suggests Dutch settlers brought donuts to North America much like they brought other traditional American desserts. They receive credit for such desserts as apple pie, cream pie, and cobbler. 

Donut shapes are as varied as their history. Was the original donut round? If so, American Hanson Gregory laid claim to inventing the ring-shaped donut in 1847 while working onboard a lime-trading ship. Only 16 at the time, Gregory claims he punched a hole in the center of the dough with the ship’s tin pepper box. Later, he taught the technique to his mother.

Traveling further back in time, we look at an English cookbook. According to anthropologist Paul R. Mullins, an 1803 volume included donuts in the appendix of American recipes. However, the earliest recorded usage of the term donut is found in a short story in a Boston Times article about fire-cakes and dough-nuts published in 1808. 

A more commonly cited first written recording of the word is Washington Irving’s reference to donuts in 1809 in his History of New York. He described balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog fat. The author called them donuts. Today, these nuts of fried dough are called donut holes.

Another author, William Cullen Bryant describes donuts fried in lard in his book Picturesque America or the Land We Live In which was published in 1872.

Donuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, how many National Donut Days are there?

I know of the one that falls on the first Friday in June and the one on November 5. But here’s where there is some confusion. National Donut Day in June pays tribute to the donut lassies that helped soldiers during World War I.

In 1938, Chicago’s Salvation Army started a fundraiser to help people affected by the Great Depression and to pay tribute to the Salvation Army’s Lassies who served donuts to the soldiers.

During World War I, the Salvation Army sent over 200 volunteers to France. Canteens or social centers called huts were set up in abandoned buildings to provide supplies or services like mending clothes and baked goods. Each hut included Salvation Army volunteers. It proved to be challenging to have baked goods freshly baked from these huts.

Then two of the women hit on a novel idea: what if they made donuts to remind the men of home? And so Margaret Sheldon and Helen Purviance collected excess rations for the dough and shell casings and wine bottles for makeshift rolling pins.

The soldiers loved the doughnuts and the female volunteers were nicknamed the Doughnut Girls.

During World War II, doughnuts were handed out by Red Cross Volunteers and they soon became nicknamed the Doughnut Dollies.

Other doughnut-recognized days include the following although there’s no real history behind each that I could locate. Let’s face it, we just love donuts.

  • June 8: National Jelly-Filled Doughnut Day
  • September 14: National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day
  • October 30: Buy a Doughnut Day
Donut holes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is it doughnut or donut?

Donut, an American variant, first appeared in the late 1800s as a contraction of the original spelling. The shortened spelling didn’t immediately catch on, however, and remained mostly dormant until midway through the 20th century.

Print ads for cake and glazed donuts and doughnuts existed since at least 1896 in the United States. George W. Peck published Peck’s Bad Boy and his Pa in 1900. It contained the first known printed use of donut. In it, a character is quoted as saying, “Pa said he guessed he hadn’t got much appetite and he would just drink a cup of coffee and eat a donut.”

In 1919, the Square Donut Company of America was founded. Square donuts offers an easier-to-package product.

The more traditional spelling is doughnut. However, both doughnuts and donuts are pervasive in American English.

Donuts come in a large variety of recipes, flavors, and toppings. However, just like many pastries, we are only limited by imagination and the ingredients at hand. From syrups and jellies to sprinkles and custards, top them, fill them, bake them, or fry them. Donuts have a mouth-watering way of glazing and dusting their way into our shopping carts. They also slip into the break room at work to share.  

Donuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Donut Day activities

  • Go on a donut adventure: Visit your favorite donut shop but don’t go for your usual, instead allow yourself to experiment with different flavors
  • Share the love: Pick out a variety of donuts to share with family and friends
  • Fry ‘em up: Making your own donuts can be an exciting experience to share with friends and family

Worth Pondering…

With a doughnut in each hand, anything is possible.

—Jameela Jamil 

National Pancake Day: A Brief History of Pancakes

The sweet or savory flat cakes have long been a culinary staple

Defined simply as flat cakes prepared from starch-based batter, pancakes—or at least rudimentary versions of them—were one of humanity’s earliest, most important foodstuffs.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are there two National Pancake Days?

A day so nice they made it twice—February 28 was the year’s first National Pancake Day. People love pancakes so much that there are two National Pancake Days each year. As discussed in an earlier post, IHOP restaurants celebrate their holiday devoted to pancakes. IHOP’s National Pancake Day 2023 took place on February 28.

September 26 is the year’s second National Pancake Day. That day was first called Lumberjack Day. The creators of the holiday changed the name to honor pancakes.

And we also have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. It is the day before Ash Wednesday, also referred to as Fat Tuesday. Lent marks a time to eat simpler food and give up things like sweet, rich, and dairy ingredients. The day before the season started was therefore the ideal time to make pancakes as a means to use up leftover eggs, milk, and sugar.

Ambrosia Bakery (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) during Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Early pancake history

In 2022, researchers excavating the Shanidar Cave site, 500 miles north of Baghdad in the Zagros Mountains, unearthed the charred remains of some of the world’s oldest cooked leftovers. As Ceren Kabukcu, an archaeobotanical scientist at the University of Liverpool and the lead author of a paper on the discovery says in an email, “It looked like the seeds were soaked before they were cooked. You can tell if it’s soaked or cracked before it’s mashed into a patty. From this, we suggested the food underwent something like a flat preparation.” The 70,000-year-old culinary treat was, in other words, a pancake.

While previous research suggested cooking emerged during the Neolithic era (roughly 7000 BC to 1700 BC) when prehistoric people transitioned to larger, more structured communities and began to domesticate crops and animals, more recent findings indicate otherwise. Kabukcu cites evidence of “cooking with different plants (tubers, nuts, seeds) much earlier than the Neolithic.” Some 30,000 years ago, for instance, Stone Age people made flour out of cattails and ferns likely combining the powder with water and baking the mixture on a hot rock to create a flat cake.

Today, the pancake remains one of the easiest foods to cook. Simply take a starch, be it wheat, barley, spelt, or another flour, then add water, milk, perhaps an egg or two, and—if hoping to make a thick, fluffy pancake—a raising agent. Combine, then pour or scoop the mixture onto a hot surface, flipping the patty once bubbles appear to produce a perfectly golden-brown cake.

While the base pancake recipe is largely the same around the world, different countries have found ways to make the food their own. In the United States, pancakes come slathered with maple syrup and butter; in France, thin crepes are made from wheat flour or buckwheat without a raising agent like baking powder or soda.

Kolaches are popular in Central Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other global varieties include:

  • Ethiopian injera (sourdough flatbread)
  • Korean kimchi buchimgae (savory pancakes)
  • Chinese jianbing (savory crisp-fried crêpes)
  • North Indian cheela (crispy, soft pancake)
  • Venezuelan cachapas (savory-sweet corn pancakes)
  • South Indian dosa (crispy, savory pancakes)
  • Dutch babies (baked in the oven, rather than being fried)
  • Moroccan msemen (flat, square-shaped Moroccan pancakes)

What links pancakes from different ingredients and different cultures is their flat shape which helps them cook through quickly. They’re relatively simple and their smallish size makes them easy to eat.

The first written records of pancakes come from the ancient Greeks and Romans. Around 500 BC, Athenian poet Cratinus described them as “hot and shedding morning dew.” Some 600 years later in the late second century BC, Greek physician Galen included a recipe in his On the Properties of Foodstuffs that’s similar to how Russian blinis or Canadian griddlecakes are prepared today. Galen noted that these sweet treats were often enjoyed with honey.

To the east, in what is now Xinjiang, a region in northwest China excavations at the Subeixi Cemeteries have uncovered millet pancakes dating to between 500 and 300 BC making them roughly contemporary to Cratinus.

These early examples might fall under the modern definition of pancake. But they weren’t referred to as such at the time. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word pancake, derived from the Middle English pancake or ponkake only came into use during the medieval era. One text, Thomas Austin’s Two 15th-Century Cookery Books advised readers to set a pan over the fire, pour in the batter, and let it spread to makyst a pancake.

Kolaches are popular in Central Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A food of the people

With its limited ingredients and short preparation time, the pancake has historically been a working-class food. “One of the great points about leavened pancakes and all the tribe of griddle cakes,” wrote Elizabeth David in the 1977 compendium English Bread and Yeast Cookery, “was that they provided a means of using flours such as barley, buckwheat, oatmeal, which were not suitable for bread proper.” Pancakes have an essential composition that’s more liquid than flour with a runny batter replacing dough which requires kneading.

The pancake’s status as a food of the people stretches back centuries. In the 1750 cookbook Country Housewife’s Family Companion, author William Ellis praised pancakes as “one of the cheapest and more serviceable dishes of a farmer’s family in particular because all the ingredients of the common ones are of his produce are ready at hand.”

When Prussia besieged Paris for four months in 1870 and 1871, bread grew scarce, particularly for the lower classes. Many Parisians turned to crepes which had long been considered “lowly fare for ordinary people,” writes Ken Albala in Pancake: A Global History. By the end of the year, however, it was virtually impossible to find flour.

Miners, lumberjacks, cowboys, and urban workers are all associated with pancakes. In homes where meat and fish were too expensive to procure, pancakes served as culinary staples that could be eaten on the go or taken back to work.

While pancakes were especially popular with the working class, they weren’t limited to this audience. In February 1619, English noblewoman Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, and Montgomery wrote a diary entry detailing how she made “pancakes with my women in the great chamber.”

Almost 300 years later, during the late Victorian era, English citizens occasionally ate caviar pancakes as part of the savory course, a small salty or piquant dish served at the end of the meal after pudding (better known to Americans as dessert) but before fruit and nuts.

Potter Country Store, Schulenburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pancakes around the world

Pancakes are celebratory, a festive food considered by many to be a symbol of life perhaps because “the bread-pancake made of unleavened flour and water was the staff of life” (or a dietary staple) in numerous ancient civilizations, the New York Times wrote in 1990. Eaten in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and some parts of Somalia, injera (made of teff flour) is served at weddings, birthday parties, and family gatherings. Traditionally, injera is enjoyed communally with two or three people eating from the same plate. In North India, chilla, a pancake made with chickpea-based gram flour is commonly served at weddings.

Literary classics also reference pancakes’ role in revelry. In John Steinbeck’s seminal 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family eats pancakes topped with syrup and sugar after Al announces his engagement to Agnes Wainwright. Even Shakespeare knew that pancakes were for merrymaking: In Pericles, a fisherman says, “Come, thou shalt go home, and we’ll have flesh for holidays, fish for fasting days, and puddings and flapjacks, and thou shalt be welcome.”

In much of the Western world, pancakes are eaten on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the start of Lent and its 40 days of austerity. The holiday’s name is derived from shrive, an archaic verb meaning to confess or give penance (the original purpose of Shrove Tuesday).

Also known as Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday’s association with the flat cakes probably came about pragmatically. Early Lenten rules banned dairy and meat so Christians had to use up their eggs and milk before fasting began.

During the Middle Ages, Shrove Tuesday took on a more raucous air with English peasants spending the day gorging themselves on sugary and buttery richness. In many towns, a shriving bell was rung to call villagers to confession. Pancake: A Global History notes that a local legend tells of a housewife who “was still busy cooking pancakes one morning when a particularly zealous vicar rang the bell rather early. Still in her apron, she took off, pan in hand, flipping as she went so as not to spoil the efforts of her labor.” To commemorate the woman’s dedication some English towns host pancake-flipping contests and races the oldest of which is still held annually in Olney, Buckinghamshire.

Food writer Felicity Cloake who spent many hours investigating the perfect pancake recipe for the Guardian, says, “The Shrove Tuesday variety of pancake, wafer thin and rich with the butter and eggs we’re supposed to be forsaking for the next 40 days, is now largely confined to Pancake Day itself.”

Pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pancakes play a central role in Judaism, too, with Jewish people eating latkes to commemorate the Hannukah miracle. Today, latkes are often made of potatoes (either shredded or pureed) and fried in oil like a Ukrainian kartoflani platske. Potatoes arrived in Europe from the New World during the 16th century but were only widely farmed in Eastern Europe some 200 years later. Before potatoes became widely available, Jewish peoples ate latkes made of buckwheat flour or cheese, building on an earlier Italian Jewish tradition.

Part of the appeal of the pancake rests in its endless customizability. Add-ins run the gamut from blueberries to chocolate chips, lemon, sugar, candied ginger, ham, and tomatoes. In Indonesia, serabi kuah pancakes sport a bright green color thanks to their inclusion of coconut milk and pandan flavoring.

In the Netherlands, pannenkoeken are eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner much like buchimgae in Korea. Farinata, a flat cake made with chickpea flour, is enjoyed as an appetizer in Liguria, Italy, and known in France as socca. According to legend, farinata was an accidental invention. Buckling under thrashing waves, the contents of a boat’s galley—including jars of pureed chickpeas—were tossed about during a storm around the year 1200. The chickpea mass congealed and cooked in the next day’s sun, yielding round, brown discs that were quickly eaten by the surviving sailors.

Every culture has its own version of the pancake—and with it a story.

Worth Pondering…

The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.

—W. C. Fields

National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day: August 4

Chocolate chips were invented after chocolate chip cookies

Ruth Wakefield was no cookie-cutter baker. She is widely credited with developing the world’s first recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

In 1937, Wakefield and her husband, Kenneth, owned the famous Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. While mulling new desserts to serve at the inn’s restaurant, she made a batch of Butter Drop Do pecan cookies (a thin butterscotch treat) with an alteration using semisweet chocolate instead of baker’s chocolate.

Rather than melting in the baker’s chocolate, she used an ice pick to cut the semisweet chocolate into tiny pieces. Upon removing the cookies from the oven, Wakefield found that the semisweet chocolate had held its shape much better than baker’s chocolate which tended to spread throughout the dough during baking to create a chocolate-flavored cookie.

Cookies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These cookies instead had sweet little nuggets of chocolate studded throughout. The treat recipe— Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies—was included in a late 1930s edition of her cookbook, Ruth Wakefield’s Tried and True Recipes

The cookies were a huge success and Nestlé hired Wakefield as a recipe consultant in 1939, the same year they bought the rights to print her recipe on packages of their semisweet chocolate bars. To help customers create their own bits of chocolate the bars came pre-scored in 160 segments with an enclosed cutting tool.

Three years after that first batch of chocolate chip cookies appeared fresh out of the oven—Nestlé began selling bags of Toll House Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels which some dubbed chocolate chips.

By 1941, chocolate chip cookies were the universally recognized name for the delicious treat. An updated version of Wakefield’s recipe called Original Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies still appears on every bag of morsels. For her contributions to Nestlé, Wakefield reportedly received a lifetime supply of chocolate.   

Kalaches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The famous recipe

Here’s the original recipe that’s still the gold standard of chocolate chip cookie recipes even though it’s been slightly tweaked over the years. Try it!

Original Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups (12-ounce package) NESTLÉ TOLL HOUSE Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

1 cup chopped nuts (optional. If omitting, add 1 to 2 tbsp. of all-purpose flour.)

Make It

Step 1

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Step 2

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Step 3

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Pralines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Numbers don’t lie

  • 90 billion: Individual chocolate morsels Nestle sells every year mostly in 12-ounce bags
  • 38,000 pounds: Weight of the world’s largest chocolate chip cookie
  • 102 feet: Diameter of the world’s largest chocolate chip cookie
  • 30,000: Number of eggs used in the world’s largest chocolate chip cookie
  • 53: Percentage of Americans who prefer chocolate chip cookies to other cookies
  • 13.5: Percentage of American adults who admitted to having eaten at least 20 chocolate chip cookies in one sitting
  • 10: Percentage increase in consumption of chocolate chip cookies after the introduction of detailed Nutrition Facts labels
  • 50: Number of chocolate chips that can be held in a normal tablespoon of cookie dough
  • 104–113 ℉: The ideal temperature for chocolate chips to melt when baking cookies
  • 35,000: Number of cookies the average person consumes in a lifetime.
Pecan pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day related holidays

  • January 27: National Chocolate Cake Day
  • May 5: National Chocolate Chip Day
  • October 28: National Chocolate Day

Worth Pondering…

Lou pushes a plate of cookies in front of us.

Chocolate pieces tease like jewels in sand.

Please, she says, have some!

I don’t want to be impolite, so I take five.

—Katherine Applegate

National Chocolate Chip Day: May 15

Chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chip cookie dough pops…the possibilities are endless for tasty, irresistible treats on National Chocolate Chip Day

Today is National Chocolate Chip Day! Chocolate chips are an essential ingredient in dozens of delicious baked goods—chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chip pancakes, chocolate chip muffins, chocolate chip brownies, chocolate chip bagels, and many more. You can even find chili recipes that call for these sweet morsels!

We might not know which came first—the chicken, or the egg—but when it comes to chocolate chips and their namesake cookie, the history is well-documented and it might not be what you think. Chocolate chips actually came after the chocolate chip cookie and despite their presence everywhere are likely younger than your grandmother.

Yes, Blue Bell offers chocolate chip ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The recipe spread like wildfire and after a few years of selling their semi-sweet chocolate bars with a chopping tool (for easy chunking of the bar), Nestlé went one step further by introducing chocolate morsels to the world. With such a history and with so much mass appeal it’s no surprise that this kitchen delight deserves celebration and that’s why on May 15, we have National Chocolate Chip Day.

Have you ever wondered how a single ingredient would change a recipe? If it weren’t for one curious baker, it would be hard to imagine where we would be without the invention of chocolate chips.

In 1937, Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband, Kenneth, owned the popular Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. While mulling new desserts to serve at the inn’s restaurant, she decided to make a batch of Butter Drop Do pecan cookies (a thin butterscotch treat) with an alteration using semisweet chocolate instead of baker’s chocolate.

Lake Champlain Chocolates in Burlington, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rather than melting in the baker’s chocolate, she used an ice pick to cut the semisweet chocolate into tiny pieces. Upon removing the cookies from the oven, Wakefield found that the semisweet chocolate had held its shape much better than baker’s chocolate which tended to spread throughout the dough during baking to create a chocolate-flavored cookie. These cookies instead had sweet little nuggets of chocolate studded throughout. The recipe for the treats—known as Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies—was included in a late 1930s edition of her cookbook, Ruth Wakefield’s Tried and True Recipes

The cookies were a huge success and in 1939 Wakefield signed an agreement with Nestle to add her recipe to the chocolate bar’s packaging. In exchange for the recipe, Wakefield reportedly received a lifetime supply of chocolate. The Nestle brand Toll House cookies were named for the Inn.

Nestle initially included a small chopping tool with the chocolate bars, too.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates in Frankfort, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in 1941, Nestle and other competitors started selling the chocolate in chip or morsel form. For the first time, bakers began making chocolate chip cookies without chopping up the chocolate bar first. 

Chocolate chips originally came in semi-sweet. Later, chocolate producers began offering bittersweet, mint, white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white and dark swirled. Today, chips also come in a variety of other flavors that bakers and candy makers use creatively in their kitchens.

While cookies may be the first treat to come to mind, imagination is really the only thing limiting how chocolate chips can be used in baking and candy making. Even savory dishes feature chocolate chips in a variety of ways, too. Had Ruth Graves Wakefield never wondered what a few chopped up chunks of chocolate would be like in her baking, we wouldn’t even have chocolate chip cookies.  

Yes to chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Chocolate Chip Day timeline

1937: Ruth Graves Wakefield creates the chocolate-chip cookie

1963: Chips Ahoy! hits the shelves in U.S. supermarkets

1991: Ben and Jerry’s creates Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream

1997: The chocolate-chip cookie is named and recognized as the official state cookie of Massachusetts

Yes, Blue Bell offers chocolate chip ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why I love National Chocolate Chip Day

Chocolate chips are everywhere: They might have been created with one purpose in mind but chocolate chips have branched out since their early days as cookie-fillers. Nowadays, it’s hard to think up a confection that hasn’t donned a chocolate chip cap whether its pancakes, muffins, or ice cream sundaes.

The choices … oh, so many choices: The chocolate chips that eventually found their way into the classic chocolate chip cookie are made of semi-sweet chocolate but they now come in a plethora of options ranging from white chocolate to dark chocolate and all the way to caramel ensuring that no matter what you’re baking there’s a place for a chip!

Big or small—I’ll eat them all: Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies, no matter the size. They could be small (so long as there’s enough to have more than one!) or they could be massive as in the case of Immaculate Baking’s 40,000 pound Guinness Record breaker but regardless of size, they’re sure to draw a crowd. The fact that chocolate chips were used to break the record of world’s largest cookie is only a testament to their universality and it’s safe to say that they’ll always have a space on the shelf of any baker.

Yes, Ben & Jerry’s offers chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Chocolate Chip Day activities

Hack the kitchen: Chocolate for dinner

Most chefs know how to use tried-and-true flavor combinations to great effect but the best chefs create new combinations altogether. Try using chocolate chips in a dinner recipe for a real challenge. If you’re looking for a place to start, you might consider trying a Mexican mole (pronounced moh-lay) sauce recipe. Mole sauce tastes fantastic with chicken, tostadas, chicken or veggie enchiladas, tacos, and burritos.

Yes to chocolate chip ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How big can you bake it?

You probably won’t approach the world record but National Chocolate Chip Day is the perfect occasion to try your hand at baking the biggest chocolate chip cookie possible.

Art you can eat

With a mix of chocolate chips, M&Ms, and some other similarly-sized chocolate candies you’re well on your way to a kid-friendly edible art project!

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates in Frankfort, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Chocolate Chip Day related holidays

January 27: National Chocolate Cake Day

August 4: National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

October 28: National Chocolate Day

Worth Pondering…

Lou pushes a plate of cookies in front of us.

Chocolate pieces tease like jewels in sand.

Please, she says, have some!

I don’t want to be impolite, so I take five.

—Katherine Applegate

January 19: However You like Popcorn Enjoy It TODAY on National Popcorn Day

This annual celebration recognizes a treat that satisfies munchies, day or night

On January 19th National Popcorn Day pops onto the scene with a crunch we all love to enjoy! This time-honored snack can be sweet or savory, caramelized, buttered or plain, molded into a candied ball, or tossed with nuts and chocolate. However you like it, enjoy it on National Popcorn Day, January 19th.

Buttered, salted, kettled, and drizzled with caramel, popcorn is one of those snacks perfect anytime, anywhere. It’s great on the go, in the theater, or your living room! Just be prepared to dig some of it out of your teeth.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know that the corn we eat and the corn we pop are two different varieties of maize? The corn you’d find on your dinner table is most likely unable to pop at all. Only one variety of corn can become popcorn: Zea mays everta. This particular corn variety has small ears and the kernels burst when exposed to dry heat. 

In 1948, small heads of Zea mays everta were discovered by Herbert Dick and Earle Smith in the Bat Cave of west-central New Mexico. Ranging from smaller than a penny to about two inches, the oldest Bat Cave ears were about 4,000 years old. Several individually popped kernels were also discovered which have since been carbon-dated and shown to be approximately 5,600 years old. There’s also evidence of early use of popcorn in Peru, Mexico, and Guatemala as well as other places in Central and South America. 

Aztecs used popcorn to decorate their clothes, create ceremonial embellishments, and also for nourishment. Native Americans have also been found to consume and utilize popcorn in their day-to-day lives. In a cave in Utah thought to be inhabited by Pueblo Native Americans, popcorn has been found that dates back to over 1,000 years ago. French explorers who traveled to the new world discovered the Iroquois Natives in the Great Lakes region making popcorn. As colonists moved around North America and as the US came to be many people adopted popcorn as a popular and healthy snack.

The word corn in Old English meant grain or, more specifically, the most prominent grain grown in a region. When Native Americans introduce their most common grain, maize, to early Europeans, they aptly applied the word corn.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As early as the 16th century, the Aztecs used popcorn in headdresses worn during ceremonies honoring Tlaloc, their god of maize and fertility. Early Spanish explorers were fascinated by the corn that burst into what looked like a white flower.

Popcorn started becoming popular in the United States in the middle 1800s. It wasn’t until Charles Cretors, a candy-store owner, developed a machine for popping corn with steam that the tasty treat became more abundantly poppable. By 1900 he had horse-drawn popcorn wagons going through the streets of Chicago.

>> Read Next: Celebrating all things Pistachio on National Pistachio Day

At about the same time, Louise Ruckheim added peanuts and molasses to popcorn to bring Cracker Jack to the world. Then in 1908, the national anthem of baseball was born. Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer wrote Take Me out to the Ballgame. From that point onward, popcorn, specifically Cracker Jack, became forever married to the game.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the movies

Another romance connected to popcorn may have had a slow start but eventually took off. Today, who can imagine going to the movies without getting a box of buttered popcorn? While popcorn was an economical choice for snack food the expense of installing a machine and adequately venting the building didn’t seem worth the effort. If it weren’t for Glen W. Dickson, we would be purchasing our popcorn from a vendor on the street before taking in the show. Dickson put in the effort and expense of placing machines inside his theaters. After realizing how quickly he recouped his costs other theater owners followed suit.

The microwave oven spurred the next big advancement for popcorn. With the invention of the microwave, a whole new market opened for snack food. Magnetrons, a technology produced by Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation for the military during World War II were later used to develop microwave ovens. Percy Spencer was the man who made it happen. He used popcorn in his initial experiments during the microwave’s development. 

Today, Americans consume 17 billion quarts of popcorn a year, more than any other country in the world. A majority of the popcorn produced in the world is grown in the United States. Nebraska leads the Corn Belt in popcorn production.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popcorn by the numbers

  • 17 billion quarts: Amount of popcorn consumed by Americans annually
  • 70:  Percentage of popcorn eaten at home
  • 90: Percentage of unpopped popcorn sales
  • 13.5: Percentage of moisture content in popcorn
  • 31: Calories in a cup of popcorn
  • 5,000: Years popcorn has been in existence
  • 1885: First commercial popcorn machine was invented by Charles Cretors
  • 1981: Making popcorn even quicker and easier to eat, the General Mills patent for microwave popcorn bags is approved
  • 250 million: Pounds of popcorn produced in Nebraska every year (also known as the Cornhusker State, although it’s third in overall corn production)
  • 3: Feet that a single popped corn can fly when popping
  • 400°F: Ideal temperature for popping popcorn
Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to celebrate National Popcorn Day

Celebrating National Popcorn Day is as simple and delicious as it comes! You can start by enjoying a bag of popcorn with your favorite toppings. Pop your favorite popcorn and share a bowl with a friend.

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Ways to enjoy popcorn: You can have it with a classic mix of butter and salt or get creative and add your favorite spices and herbs to it! There isn’t anything that doesn’t go wonderfully with it. For a light heart-healthy addition you can skip the butter and shake it down with herbs like rosemary and thyme or spice it up with cayenne. Or you can forgo the healthy options and bury it under a delicious coating of caramel and bacon and enjoy the decadence.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go global with popcorn: First made readily available in America in the early 1800s, this delightful treat has grown in popularity so that it is now a delicacy found the world over. And different places seem to enjoy their popcorn in different ways:

  • Japan: In addition to the standard ways, they appreciate flavors such as honey, milk tea, and curry
  • Europe: Enjoyed here as a sugary treat, popcorn is often sold in bags at the cinema rather than freshly popped
  • Nigeria: Best enjoyed by popping it in the microwave, a preferred flavor of popcorn here is fruit chutney
  • India: In addition to the standard butter and salt popcorn, it can be found in unique flavors such as miso soup, Thai red coconut, and anchovy garlic

Crafting with popcorn: You can also celebrate popcorn by doing crafts with it. Popcorn strings are a wonderful decoration use them to make garlands or even glue them to construction paper for a collage. String or glue popcorn onto a metal or styrofoam to make a festive popcorn wreath to welcome friends into your National Popcorn Day party. And don’t forget the paint and glitter to glitz it up even more. Popcorn can even be used as a filling for glass Christmas ornaments to make cute decorations that give a little nod to the day.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan a movie marathon: Three weeks into January? Chances are you just want to hide and eat comfort food—but, your resolutions. There’s a win-win! Tee up your favorite Star Wars Trilogy and pop a big bowl of popcorn. You can enjoy the wisdom of Yoda and keep to your diet. (A little olive oil and salt with the carby goodness of the popcorn may just hit the spot!)

Most of the popcorn we consume is either a Butterfly (also known as snowflake) or Mushroom popcorn. Butterfly popcorn produces a fluffy, winged kernel while Mushroom popcorn produces a denser more compact kernel. While both are delicious for snacking, Mushroom popcorn holds up better to caramel, cheese, and other coatings.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yoder Popcorn

On our first visit to Amish Country in northwestern Indiana, we discovered Yoder Popcorn near Shipshewana. It has been a mandatory stop on each return visit.

In 1936, Rufus Yoder started growing popcorn on his family farm. In the Amish custom, he shared his excess crop with his neighbors and friends. They told their friends and neighbors about the excellent quality of Yoder Popcorn and soon a business was born.

After Rufus retired, his children Larry and Pauline continued to market Yoder Popcorn.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1999, Yoder Popcorn was purchased by Rufus’ great niece, Sharon, along with her husband Richard and their youngest son, Russell, and his wife Allyse. Besides operating the Popcorn Shoppe, they farm 1,700 acres which include the acreage around the Shoppe.

>> Read Next: January 16: National Day Calendar + RVing with Rex 4th Birthday

A large variety of popcorn and related products are available at their store and on-line purchase:

  • Tiny Tender White: Very small kernel with a mild corn taste; enjoy crispy and nearly hulless popcorn
  • Baby Blue Popcorn: Tiny kernel that pops white with a dark center; sweet and crunchy with very little hull
  • Sunburst Popcorn: Large kernel with a red stripe (being that it is yellow popcorn, it will have that corn taste but with less hull than the Premium Yellow)
  • Lady Finger Microwave Popcorn: Tiniest kernel, completely hulless with a strong corn taste
  • Tiny Tender Yellow Microwave Popcorn: The ultimate in tenderness and is virtually hull-less (yellow popcorn usually pops a little bigger than white popcorn)
  • Mirowave Sample Pack: 3.5 oz. butter-flavored pouch of each of the following: 1-Yoder Premium Yellow, 1-Yoder Premium Yellow Extra Butter, 1-Yoder Premium White, 1-Yoder Yellow Tiny Tender, and 1-Yoder Premium Red
  • Gift Baskets: Price range from $6 to $62

Related popcorn days

National Caramel Popcorn Day (April 6)

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever pondered the miracle of popcorn? It starts out as a tiny, little, compact kernel with magic trapped inside that when agitated, bursts to create something marvelously desirable. It’s sort of like those tiny, little thoughts trapped inside an author’s head that―in an excited explosion of words―suddenly become a captivating fairy tale!

―Richelle E. Goodrich

January 16: National Day Calendar + RVing with Rex 4th Birthday

There are over 1,500 national days. Don’t miss a single one. Celebrate every day!

Good morning. In addition to today being Monday, January 16, it’s also Martin Luther King, Jr Day which is a national holiday.

On the third Monday in January, Martin Luther King Jr Day honors the American clergyman, activist, Civil Rights Movement leader. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (January 15, 1929–April 4, 1968) is best known for his role in advancing civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience.

End of the day at Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many other things to celebrate today: International Hot and Spicy Food Day, National Fig Newton Day, National Religious Freedom Day, National without a Scalpal Day, and RVing with Rex’s fourth birthday.

No need to get me a present but I certainly wouldn’t mind if you told all your friends about the site.

>> Read Next: RVing with Rex: The New Generation of Vogel Talks RVing

None of these days or the similar ones you may see shared on social media throughout the year are actually national holidays. But they do provide a bit of good fun and levity which was part of Marlo Anderson’s goal when he started the National Day Calendar. Anderson’s initial blog quickly took off as he realized how much people loved the concept of national days and he has since expanded to a system where the public can suggest new days and a team then votes on what makes it onto the calendar.

There are over 1,500 national days. Don’t miss a single one. Celebrate Every Day with National Day Calendar.

Hatch chile pappers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

International Hot and Spicy Food Day

Each year on January 16th, International Hot and Spicy Food Day celebrate all the delicious hot and spicy foods around the world.

Most people know that chili peppers are one of the hottest foods on the planet. But did you know that the hottest chili pepper in the world is always changing? This is because chili peppers are constantly evolving. But how is the hottest chili pepper determined? Chili peppers contain capsaicinoids. This is the active compound in chili pepper that’s responsible for their spicy sensation. Capsaicinoids are measured by the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU).

>> Read Next: Light Your Fires on National Chili Day

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recently, the Carolina Reaper was named the hottest chili pepper. This super spicy chili pepper has a SHU of 2,200,000. This is 200 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper! Can you imagine popping a Carolina Reaper into your mouth? If that’s way too hot, here are some other chili peppers that are a little less spicy:

  • Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (2,009,231 SHU)
  • 7 Pot Douglah (1,853,936 SHU)
  • Naga Viper (1,349,000 SHU)
  • Ghost Pepper (1,041,427 SHU)
  • Red Savina Habanero (500,000 SHU)

By comparison, the SHU of a jalapeno pepper is only between 2,500 and 8,000.

Cajun cuisine at its finest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Fig Newton Day

National Fig Newton Day on January 16th annually recognizes a tasty pastry enjoyed across the country. 

A Nabisco’s trademarked version of the fig roll, Newtons are a pastry filled with fig paste. Fig Newtons have an unusual and characteristic shape that has been adopted by many competitors including generic fig bars.

Up until the 19th century, many physicians believed most illnesses were related to digestion problems. As a remedy, they recommended a daily intake of biscuits and fruit. Fig rolls served as an ideal solution to their advice which remained a locally produced handmade product. 

Work station © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1891, Philadelphia baker and fig-lover Charles Roser invented and patented the machine which inserted fig paste into a thick pastry dough. The Cambridgeport, Massachusetts-based Kennedy Biscuit Company then purchased Roser’s recipe. They began mass production after purchasing the recipe. In 1891, they produced the first Fig Newtons baked at the F.A. Kennedy Steam Bakery. The company named the pastries after the town of Newton, Massachusetts.

After recently becoming associated, the Kennedy Biscuit Company and the New York Biscuit company merged to form Nabisco. The new company trademarked the fig rolls as Fig Newtons.

Observe National Fig Newton Day by enjoying a Fig Newton, fig roll, or making your own. People of all ages enjoy this tasty bar. It comes in various flavors but fig seems to be the most popular. Enjoy it with coffee, tea, or juice. 

National D-Day Memorial at Bedford, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Religious Freedom Day

Each year, National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the day the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was signed on January 16, 1786. Each year, by Presidential Proclamation, January 16th is declared Religious Freedom Day. 

The First Freedom Center in Richmond, Virginia, commemorates this day by holding an annual First Freedom Award banquet.

The statute guarantees the fundamental freedom to openly practice one’s faith without fear of being harassed, jailed, or killed. Additionally, under the statute, each person may freely change their religion without retribution. In the United States, people of different faiths have equal rights to practice their religion.

Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around the world, religious restrictions continue to rise. According to Pew research, legislation, attitudes, and policies are rising globally in the last decade. Even those countries usually considered restrictive are increasing their limitations. When looking at countries with the most equality, they too show a change in policies and attitudes toward religious freedom. Religious freedom is a global concern, not only a national one. 

While recognizing the U.S. commemoration, take a broader look. Learn more about religious freedom in the United States and around the world. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National without a Scalpel Day

Each year on National without a Scalpel Day January 16th recognizes the opportunities to treat disease without a scalpel. On this day in 1964, pioneering physician Charles Dotter performed the first angioplasty. The ground-breaking procedure to open a blocked blood vessel took place in Portland, Oregon. Not only did the angioplasty allow the patient to avoid leg amputation surgery but she left the hospital days later with only a Band-Aid.

>> Read Next: Celebrating all things Pistachio on National Pistachio Day

Today, minimally invasive, image-guided procedures (MIIP) can treat a broad range of diseases throughout the body, in adults and children:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysms
  • Life-threatening bleeding
  • Infertility
  • Fibroids
  • Kidney stones
  • Back pain
  • Infections
  • Blocked blood vessels
World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even though trained specialists perform MIIP throughout the world, many people do not know about MIIP or if they could benefit from these life-changing treatments. The Interventional Initiative was established to raise awareness and educate the public about MIIP.

Worth Pondering…

I think people are looking for an excuse just to have some fun.

―Amy Monette