Kids in the Kitchen – Old Fashioned Halloween Popcorn Balls
by Judy Furney
The signs of fall are upon us, even if the weather hasn’t caught up yet. High school football games, Homecoming parades, store shelves bursting with candy and costumes, they are all just around the corner.
As I contemplated what to write about for this issue, a warm and happy memory floated to the surface – my memory of small-town Halloweens gone by. I grew up in a little East Texas town where neighbors knew neighbors. Front doors were unlocked, and garage doors left open.
As kids we knew that Mrs. Girard across the street would make candy apples every Halloween, but she only gave those to the children she knew, so you had to get there early. Mrs. Shoemaker handed out special goody bags full of mouth-watering homemade candy. But perhaps my favorite treat of all was Mrs. Peacock’s wonderful Halloween popcorn balls. That slightly salty, very sweet and mildly sticky orb of perfection was at the top of my list every year of trick-or-treating. All the neighborhood kids knew about them, so we always made a bee-line for her house first.
Those days of innocence and trust are sadly gone – a homemade treat in a child’s bag would be viewed with suspicion and probably thrown out today. Even so, you can make your own special holiday treats to share with friends even without the knock on the door, and cries of “Trick or Treat” echoing through the cool night air.
This is a great treat to make with the kids, so tie on your apron and let’s get started. This recipe makes ten 3-inch round popcorn balls.
Ingredients for Halloween Popcorn Balls
2 cups white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
5 quarts popped popcorn – equals about ½ cup unpopped kernels (avoid microwave popcorn – traditional poppers or hot air popped corn work best)
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter and water. Stir and cook to hard-crack stage or 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Remove from heat, add vanilla or vinegar; mix well. (Note: Use a candy thermometer, if possible, to measure the temperature. Test a drop of the mixture in a cup of very cold water when you think it is ready. The drop of syrup should harden immediately and become brittle when broken.)
Pour slowly over popped popcorn while stirring. Wait 5 minutes and shape into 3 inch round balls. (Tip: Use plastic storage bags or disposable kitchen gloves on your hands while shaping. This will keep the mixture from sticking to your hands.)
You can add a few drops of food coloring to the syrup mixture to create colored popcorn balls.
Add variety with other ingredients such as chocolate chips, candy corn, M&Ms, nuts or marshmallows.
Dip your popcorn balls in melted chocolate and set of wax paper to set.