Halloween as a child in rural Missouri was a bit different than the October holiday I’ve come to know as an adult ‘mo. The 10 to 12 weeks leading up to Gay Halloween consist of two-a-day workouts, multiple, scheduled, bland, carbless meals, and the agonizing synchronization of elaborate, yet shirtless, costumes, all with a choreographed number to be performed in front of the masses.
The Midwestern Halloween of my youth usually entailed me rummaging through my mother’s closet on October 29th, trying to match a dress with a red belt to my grandmother’s size 11 sensible heels*. And they say it’s not predetermined…
This same grandmother, known as Mema by all of the family, would make these delicious caramel popcorn balls every Halloween. In retrospect, it’s probably because she had all the ingredients in the pantry that was still stocked for World War III and she was too
frugal smart to waste her hard-earned money on candy when we didn’t know the difference.
Nonetheless, these were a hit every year with all of us, and I still have friends from Missouri who ask about Mema’s Popcorn Balls to this day.
So, unless you just like the look of Charmin draped haphazardly throughout your landscaping, or happen to cherish opening the door to a flaming bag of your neighbor’s Labradoodle’s turds, throw out those dollar store knockoff Butterfingers and hand these out instead this Halloween.
*She is an incredible lady, not only did she never question my need to borrow her shoes, she didn’t bat an eye when I asked her to teach me to crochet in the 3rd grade.
caramel popcorn balls
makes 12 balls
- Vegetable oil
- 2 cups unpopped popcorn
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 stick plus 1 tablespoon of butter
- 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in large deep pan over medium-high heat. Add 3-4 kernels of corn and when they have popped add 1/2 cup of kernels. Cover with a lid leaving slightly open to allow steam to vent.
If you open too much, popcorn flies EVERYWHERE. It was like an episode of I Love Lucy in my kitchen with me trying to catch the popcorn mid-air, take pictures, and shoo my chunk of an Australian Shepherd out of the room to keep her from eating carbs.
Keep pan moving over flame until popping slows to more than ever 2-3 seconds. Transfer to a large bowl and continue cooking remaining popcorn 1/2 cup at a time. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, insert a candy thermometer and add 1/2 stick of butter, corn syrup and sugar. Stirring constantly. When the mixture boils, stir in condensed milk and bring heat to approximately 238°. Do not stop stirring, your caramel will burn, then it’ll all be ruined.
Off of heat, stir in vanilla and pour over popcorn while still hot and stir until it’s all blended together.
Now, it gets fun. Take remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and rub it vigorously between your hands to coat well. Using buttered hands, form tightly packed 3-inch balls of popcorn and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
When cool, wrap individually in plastic wrap and if you’re feelin’ festive and fancy, then wrap in orange cellophane and tie ends with black curled ribbon.