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Beans, Popcorn and a Prelude to a Competition

The July 25, 1959, issue of The New Yorker magazine Included the article “Notes for a Gazetteer: V - Saginaw, Mich.” Part of a travel series, written by Phillip Hamburger (born 1923; died 2004), the piece highlights the central role of agriculture – especially beans – in Saginaw’s economy. After a detailed description of the Michigan Bean Company’s plant, Hamburger writes:

“The Michigan Bean People do not lose interest in a bean when it leaves their storage elevators. To them, beans are a way of life. They spend a good deal of time at Michigan Bean trying to figure out ways of increasing the per capita bean consumption of beans in the United States. They have no quarrel with New England or the Southwest, which rack up eminently respectable consumption totals each year, the goal – indeed, the dream – of Michigan Bean Is to raise the per-capita per-annum bean consumption just one pound, from seven pounds to eight. It is a modest enough dream, and, in its way, a rather lovely one.”

He continues with a description of carefully choreographed church potluck suppers. Hamburg claims these dinners, he dubs them bean Smörgåsbords, culminate in a strange after-dinner debate - defense - of bean preparation. The debate includes a referee referred to as a bean caller and a recipe exchange. (The member of the test kitchen staff writing this, a lifelong Saginaw County resident, has never heard of such a dinner or event. However, he would gladly attend one and would even volunteer his services as the event’s bean caller.)

The Saginaw News was not impressed by Hamburger’s article, referring to The New Yorker as “that frequently snide and sometimes smirking magazine” and pointed out the inaccuracies and inadequacies of the piece. While Hamburger seems to have totally overlooked the General Motors plants and other industries integral to Saginaw’s economy, he focused – some may say fixated – on the marketing efforts of Michigan Bean Company.

Marketing its product was integral to the success of Michigan Bean Company. Recognizing that a business has only so many opportunities to convince a consumer of the merits of a bag of dried beans, packaging was designed to be eye-catching, appealing and reassure the customer of the cleanliness and purity under which they were prepared. Other promotional efforts used by the company included printing cookbooks and encouraging bean cookoffs (However, there is no evidence of the contests requiring the services of a bean caller.)

And this leads to a point for further research: we are almost certain that Phillip Hamburger toured the Michigan Bean Company elevator, and we suspect that it is likely he met Al Riedel – the individual who steered the company’s growth and marketing. However, this is a topic for further research and a trip to New York to consult Phillip Hamburger’s papers at the New York Public Library. His notes for the Saginaw Article are in Box 22 of his archives.

Originally, we had anticipated starting a Michigan Bean Company-inspired bean cookoff series; however, it was hot – the dog days of summer, and our bean caller was lazy. Then we reread Phillip Hamburger and realized that we could feature another product processed by Michigan Bean:

“The Michigan Bean Company, besides its other products, packages popcorn and it is the company’s considered opinion that people who put ordinary table salt on popcorn are crazy, Popcorn salt is what they urge, every time, all the way.”

Next week we will commence our own celebration of the navy bean: If we need a bean caller…

The Recipe: Popcorn

We are encouraging you to prepare popcorn on the stovetop (although we did find a 1962 Michigan Bean advertisement that offered an electric popcorn popper for $3.00.)

We found a recipe for preparing popcorn on the stovetop at:

How to Make Popcorn On the Stove

Plus the secret to making it taste like movie theater popcorn, February 28, 2023.

By Alice K. Thompson for Food Network Kitchen, Alice is a contributing writer and editor at Food Network.

"What can make you a movie-night or game-night hero in just 10 minutes? Knowing how to pop up a big, aromatic bowl of homemade popcorn. It’s super-easy and almost unbelievably inexpensive, with the added benefit of being customizable to just about any taste or dietary restriction. Here’s everything you need to know.

What Oil to Use for Popcorn

If you have a favorite cooking oil, go for it: as long as it’s a high-heat oil it should be fine. Some popular popping oils are neutral ones like canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, avocado oil and vegetable (soybean) oil. Good oils that will add a distinctive flavor include olive oil (use pure olive oil, not extra-virgin) and refined coconut oil.

How to Make Popcorn on the Stove

It takes about 10 minutes from start to finish to make a big batch of irresistible popcorn, no special equipment required. This recipe makes 3 quarts (12 cups); if you want to double the recipe, use 1/3 cup oil and 1 cup popcorn in a 6- to 8-quart pot and you'll have 6 quarts (24 cups).

Step 1: Heat the Oil

Pour 3 tablespoons oil into a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot with a lid. Place over medium-high heat and heat until it is very hot and shimmers.

Step 2: Add Test Kernels, then the Remaining Kernels

Add 3 kernels to the pot and put on the lid. After you hear them pop, add 1/2 cup kernels in a single layer, put on the lid, and remove the pot from the heat for 30 seconds.

Step 3: Cook the Kernels, Shaking Every So Often

Return the pot to medium heat and place the lid just slightly ajar so steam can escape. Once the popping starts, carefully grasp the sides of the pan with potholders and give the pan a gentle shake about every minute; this helps prevent burning. Continue until you hear less than one pop per second.

Step 4: Top the Popcorn with Seasonings and Butter If You'd Like

Immediately pour the popped corn into a large bowl, sprinkle with salt and toss. If you like, drizzle with a tablespoon or two of melted butter and toss again."



We are practicing our bean calling and searching for a lost shaker of popcorn salt.


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