The first time I gave thought to the word hospitality was in 1994. I was twelve, and my family and I were visiting Savannah, Georgia. Our tour guide to one of the great old homes in the city point out the ornate carvings of pineapples festooned on banisters, bedposts, and wood carvings adorning the stately house. The prickled fruit display of pineapple, a Caribbean token of welcome (presented even to Christopher Columbus), was incorporated by the American South too, as a symbol of hospitality. Heads of household that wanted to project their generosity featured pineapples on their dinner tables and in their home decor. I loved the message, but preferred pineapples be less fibrous than wood.
Years later, reading Garden and Gun, a magazine with glossy pages filled with images and ideas of the South, I came across an piece about a “house cake.” It was a cake the author had declared her house specialty: aesthetic, but not esoteric; simple to prepare, but sublime. A classic, well-tested and prized recipe that was the welcome standard to serve guests, and as the go-to recipe to take to social gatherings. It was the cake. A recipe worth being known for, a dish that was meant for sharing.
I had an aha moment then. I knew I wanted a dish of my own, one that made me feel like a gracious cook. A recipe with hospitality factored into the flavor. A signature something that could be my standard for sharing. Thus, my house popcorn was born. It began as a honey butter popcorn, that immediately cried out for a savor of sea salt. I happily complied. (Yes, I may sound like a food whisperer- I really would like to be one.) And then added a smattering of fresh thyme leaves picked from my garden. That was very good. But the final swap of the butter for a bright lift from extra-virgin olive oil make the flavor sing. I had my dish: fancy, but fast to prepare. Perfect for sharing and simple to serve. It often festoons my party table, and wherever I take it. I’m more than mildly addicted to it. I’ve made it more times and for more people than I can keep track of. It’s healthy, light and happy food. When I make it, I am making to serve and to share. I am offering you one of my best, favorite recipes. Isn’t that what good food is for?
I’ll give you the recipe now, but I’m hardly done with this meme. I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about hospitality in line with food and my faith. And I’ll be back with some more composed thoughts soon.
1/2 cup popcorn, popped (I use an air-popper)
equal parts nice runny honey and good quality extra-virgin olive oil.
(About 2-3 Tablespoons of each)
Fine grained sea salt
1-2 Tablespoons picked leaves of thyme (lemon thyme is especially good here)
While the popcorn is popping, gently warm the honey and olive oil together in a bowl until more viscous and runny, whisk together to emulsify. (Alternately, if using a popping method that requires oil, pop in the olive oil and just warm the honey separately.) Toss the honey-olive oil mixture with the popcorn. I like to do this in a contain I can lid and shake to coat the popcorn evenly. Sprinkle with salt and toss, taste and add more as needed. Finish with leaves of thyme rubbed between your fingers to release their fragrance and flavor as you scatter them over the popcorn, and work into mixture to spread them throughout. Serve and share.