The Valparaiso Popcorn Festival celebrates its 35th year Saturday, but the fun and activities dedicated to what still ranks as America's favorite snack are already starting.
The festival, celebrating the accomplishments of the late Orville Redenbacher and his famous light and fluffy movie treat, kicked-off on Tuesday and culminate with the Orville Redenbacher Parade 10 a.m. Saturday. Various other events, including a 5K walk and a cornhole tournament, are planned throughout the week.
"People make a week and weekend out of it," said Ed Dykes, one of the chairmen for the Popcorn Festival Committee.
"They come back year after year."
Even after 35 years of kernel creativity, Tina St. Aubin, executive director of Valparaiso Community Festivals and Events, who is contributing to her sixth Popcorn Fest, feels the event has not grown stale and said the planning committee has "all the ingredients now," and it's just "how do we make it better and how do we keep people coming back each year."
For starters, St. Aubin said she needs to "keep the emphasis on the quality of the vendors, attract new visitors in our community and keep them engaged."
"To me, a festival should showcase your community," St. Aubin said.
"Valpo's a special place."
About 200 vendors are lined up for the 2013 Fest, and St. Aubin said she is expecting a comparable number of attendees as last year, a number she put around 55,000 to 60,000.
The Popcorn Parade is typically one of the main attractions during the festival, but the entertainment is also a heavy draw. This year's headliner is the '90s rock band Gin Blossoms, who shot to fame with the hit "Hey Jealousy." Additionally, performances by Highway Band, Lubriphonic and the Crawpuppies are scheduled.
The Saturday parade begins on Morgan Boulevard and continues on Lincolnway through downtown Valparaiso. This year's parade features about 80 entries, all of which will be made using some part of the popcorn plant as the main element. In total, approximately 2,000 pounds of popcorn will be used in float construction.
While anyone is welcome to enter and create a float, the festival organizers admit it's a labor of love not for the faint of heart.
"We don't want to scare anybody away by the amount of work it takes to do a float," St. Aubin said.
"But an 18-foot float built 90 percent out of popcorn is a ton of work and takes thousands of hours to do."
She said involvement and excitement from community sponsors and organizations remains key each year.
"The more people we can engage in participating in the festival, then their reach is also to so many and it spurs and keeps spurring kind of like a domino effect," St. Aubin said.
"There are countless numbers of local organizations that are either doing food booths, they're in the parade, or maybe it's an organization that is helping us with details of the fest. So, it definitely takes a whole community to take something like this on."
Another advantage and reason for the festival's longevity is the love affair so many associate with the craving for popcorn.
According to the Popcorn Board, Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popcorn annually. And last year alone, almost one billion pounds of unpopped popcorn were sold.
"Popcorn has been popular since it was first discovered," said Wendy Boersema Rappel of the Popcorn Board.
"It tastes great; it's simple, wholesome, healthy."
As for Valparaiso's festival claim-to-fame, Rappel remains impressed.
"We at the Popcorn Board are thrilled Valparaiso has had such a long, rich tradition with popcorn," she said.
Try your hand at the following popcorn recipes.
Caramel Almond Popcorn Clusters
10 cups freshly popped popcorn
2 cups whole almonds
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Spray a 15-inch by 10-inch baking sheet with non-stick spray. Mix popcorn and almonds in large bowl and set aside. Combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Increase to high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, almond extract and baking soda. Pour the mixture over the popcorn and immediately stir to gently coat. Pour mixture into the baking sheet and spread it evenly. Bake for 1 hour. Once out of the oven, let it cool completely. Break into pieces. Makes 6 servings.
• Recipe courtesy of the National Popcorn Board.
Popcorn and Peanut Truffles
6 cups popped popcorn
1 cup roasted and salted peanuts
1 (12 ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup honey
DIRECTIONS: Stir popcorn and peanuts together in a large bowl, and set it aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat chocolate chips for 10 seconds until the chips are melted. Warm honey in microwave for 10 seconds as well and stir into chocolate until well blended. Pour chocolate mixture over popcorn and stir until the popcorn is evenly coated. Using a small ice cream scoop, push popcorn mixture into scoop and release onto wax paper to form 'truffles.' Refrigerate until firm. Makes 2 dozen.