The Popcorn Connoisseur

Popping Secrets from State Park Ranger Eric Hjelstrom

State park ranger Eric Hjelstrom has a reputation as a popcorn connoisseur. Partly that’s due to his wife’s blogging (, and partly because Hjelstrom is willing to take popcorn where few have ventured.

As he puts it, “I’ve tried everything,” including at least one ingredient that may not have actually been food-grade. Hjelstrom picked up the popcorn habit when he was in the Peace Corps in Uganda. He finds bacon fat to be the ultimate medium for popping, given the added flavor, and considers coconut oil-the traditional choice of movie theaters-a close second, though he acknowledges that health concerns don’t make it a great choice for every day.

Since Hjelstrom does pop nearly every day, his oil is grapeseed, sometimes with a butter topping. “Grapeseed oil can handle a high temperature without denaturing, so it won’t burn,” he said. “Your popcorn comes out really white and fluffy. And it’s easier to clean off your pan.” He uses a Back to Basics Stainless Steel Whirly pop style stovetop popper and prides himself on popping kernels completely, ending up with a pair of old maids at most.

You’re going to watch a movie? You’ve got to have popcorn. If I were having a film festival, I’d make at least two or three batches.”

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

event calendar sponsored by:

Bellosguardo to Host Big-Bucks Gala

The private, black-tie fundraiser is set for October 14.

City Loses Trip-and-Fall Verdict

The injured woman wins $105,000.

Phone Scams Spike Countywide

Callers are claiming to be IRS and Homeland Security agents.

Longtime Fiesta Soldados Given the Boot 

Ousted Marc Martinez said Old Spanish Days has become "less inclusive."

Los Padres Forest Officials Ban Unpermitted Campfires

Wildfire conditions prompt caution.