Caramel Popcorn Balls — The Weekender

By: Marisa McClellan
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Each year around Halloween I find myself feeling nostalgic for elementary school — for class parties, costume parades on the playground and a plastic pumpkin bursting with candy. I also find myself craving my mom’s honeyed popcorn. It was her signature treat to give to friends and neighbors for the holiday.

After dinner when all the dishes were cleaned and put away, she’d fire up our yellow-and-white air popper and keep it running until she had filled a clean brown paper grocery bag with the popped corn. Once that task was finished, she’d melt butter and honey together into a thick syrup and pour it over the popped corn, using her longest-handled wooden spoon to help stir it all up.

The sweetened corn would then get spread across rimmed cookie sheets and would go into the oven for 10 or 15 minutes, to help set and crisp the kernels. The next day when it was cool, she’d package it up in plastic bags, secured with orange and black twist ties. My sister and I always got small bags in our lunch the day after she made it.

This year as Halloween drifts ever closer, I’ve been craving sweetened popcorn. Though I love my mom’s honey-butter combination, I thought it would be fun to try my hand at a more traditional popcorn ball (the version my mom always made wasn’t quite sticky enough to hold a ball shape). I settled on Marcela Valladolid's recipe for Caramel Popcorn Balls. What attracted me is that it includes honey, so I knew it would recall the popcorn from my elementary school days.

Making the popcorn balls was fun and very sticky. They tasted like harvest festivals and school carnivals and are just the thing to do this Saturday after you’ve carved your pumpkin and toasted the seeds — that's what makes this recipe perfect for The Weekender.

Before you start popping your corn, here are a few things you should know:

- Marcela instructs you to use microwave popcorn for these balls. I’ve heard some unsavory things about the chemicals in those bags and so opted to pop mine on the stovetop. If you do the same, you’re looking for 5-6 cups of popped corn.

- Please be careful with the caramel. It gets very hot and can leave nasty burns if it touches your skin while still hot. After you pour it over the corn, wait the full 5 minutes before attempting to form the balls.

- If you have helpers with this project, make sure that hands are washed, sleeves are rolled up and hair is well-secured before getting near the sticky caramel.

- If you’re not going to serve the popcorn balls right away, make sure to store them in an airtight container once cool.

Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Canning in Small Batches Year Round,  is now available.

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