Culinary approach to popcorn

April 6, 2011 9:39:14 AM PDT
At Mother Butter's popcorn shop in Bronzeville every piece of the popping process is taken seriously -- from different kernels to fresh spices and natural flavorings made from scratch.

The family-run Mother Butter's in Bronzeville is just a few blocks from Sox Park. There, they take everything seriously from the picking of their popcorn to the popping. It's a culinary approach rarely seen in their industry.

How many popcorn shops do you know of where they keep a stash of spices and spice blends from The Spice House? And how many confectionary shops actually go to the trouble of splitting their own vanilla beans and then use the powerful extract to create a "bananas foster" flavoring? This kind of meticulous - some would say culinary - approach, is certainly unique in the business, but not at Mother Butter's in Bronzeville, where popcorn is given the star treatment.

"We do things a little bit different. We don't want to use a pre-mixed caramel coating, we don't want to use a cheddar cheese spread. We want to use natural ingredients when we can, we want to make caramel from scratch... real butter, we only use sea salt and we make four gallons at a time," said Tim Donnelly, the owner of Mother Butter's.

Those small-batches keep the quality high, and prevent the popcorn from going stale. As for recipes, Donnelly has found that the fresher, the better. His melted cheese is combined with a blend of barbeque spices, then tossed into a giant hopper - think cement mixer for popcorn. His devotion to the product is so intense, he's started using four different strains of corn, depending on what flavoring he'll use later.

"We've found that different corns are better paired with different herbs and spices. So we have another corn that has a very earthy taste and that will go real well with the Cajun seasoning," Donnelly said.

The shop offers about a dozen different flavors everyday, as well as some candies, confections and fudge. But it's the popcorn that seems to be drawing in customers, and with the baseball season here, Donnelly expects business to get even better.

"Popcorn's become one of those things in Chicago like pizza, people will travel for their popcorn. The best thing is we have customers come from all over Chicagoland, the suburbs," said Donnelly.

Donnelly says he sells a lot of popcorn before Sox games since fans are allowed to bring in their own into U.S. Cellular Field.

Mother Butter's
17 W. 35th St