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Ernie's Kettle Korn Pops Up Some Fun at Area Events

Aug. 29, 2017
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A summer breeze carried the aroma of freshly popped popcorn throughout the South Shore Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. The scent led to Ernie’s Kettle Korn, where Ernie Krumme manned a 4-by-4-foot propane-powered cast-iron popper, stirring the kernels with an oar-sized wooden paddle. Krumme’s wife, Deb White, chatted with customers and rang up purchases.

Kettle corn has become popular over the last couple of decades and its availability in stores has increased, but many of those brands have been sitting on the shelves for weeks. Freshly made kettle corn such as Ernie’s Kettle Korn is light and crisp, with a divine sweet and salty blend balanced just right. “I’m going a little more out there with the popcorn flavors, because people like variety,” Krumme said. “I’ve also got cheese, salt and vinegar, butter almond toffee, jalapeño and cheese, butter pecan and flaming habanero.”

White points out some their more popular mixes: cheese and caramel mix, known as Chicago Style. “But we call it the South Shore Mix,” she said. The Confetti Mix is a fun multi-colored blend popular with kids, and there’s dill-basil, cheddar and bacon, and the Badger Mix, which is red and white (raspberry and vanilla flavored). The green and yellow (apple and banana) Packers Mix is a touchdown at every event.

Krumme and White are both retired special education teachers who taught with the Belleville School District and the Madison Metropolitan School District, respectively. Seeking extra money in their retirement, they formed Ernie’s Kettle Korn after they met and worked with Doug Gutenkunst—the renowned Cowboy Kettle Korn owner who rings a chuck wagon bell and yells “Yee-haa!” after each batch is done. Gutenkunst decided to try other markets, Krumme said, so he took his spot at the South Shore Farmers Market, which runs through Oct. 14.

Krumme and Gutenkunst also take turns offering kettle corn at Summer Sounds, held Fridays in Cedarburg. Ernie’s Kettle Korn will be at Harvest Fair, Sept. 22-24 at Wisconsin State Fair Park.

Although Krumme is more low key than Gutenkunst and his cowboy theatrics (Krumme noted that he also has a chuck wagon bell but chooses not to use it), he said people still like to watch the popping process. “I sometimes get big crowds that cheer when I finish a batch,” he said. He recalled a time when he filled in for Gutenkunst at Jazz in the Park. “Some ladies were telling me how to yell ‘yee-haa,’ and then they just filled in and started yelling for me,” he said.

Krumme lets his popcorn do the talking, and customers are listening as they line up and snap up bag after bag of the kettle corn and other popcorn varieties. After the popper cools, Krumme and White pack up and prepare for the next event. They go to Arizona during the winter months to sell kettle corn in the Tucson area.

“I like it. It’s a lot of work, but we enjoy talking to people,” Krumme said.

White agrees. “We like this market a lot. The people are friendly, and management is wonderful. We hope to return next year.”

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