Molasses Popcorn Ball
Travel Back To Yesteryear In Under 30 Minutes
I am old enough to remember growing up in a community where people gave out homemade treats on Halloween and parents used to actually let their children eat them. Back before parents were afraid of razer blades in candy apples and rat poison in homemade sweets, treats made with love and care and given to neighborhood kids were common place especially in rural America. Blame it on stranger danger or Geroldo Riviera style shock journalism, but the homemade treats given out on Halloween feel as distant now as adult Halloween parties that did not feature "sexy" costumes. Perhaps it is a false sense of nostalgia, but those homemade treats represented a sense of community that seems to be missing in modern America.
The one fall/ Halloween treat that I remember being made in my home was the Molasses Popcorn ball. It was a treat crafted by my father and was ome that was made for him, when he was a boy, by his mother. Thinking back to childhood memories, molding still hot and sticky candy coated popcorn, the scent of molasses heavy in the air, is one of my earliest kitchen memories. As a parent, it is a little scary to think of an 8 year old handling the liquid magma that is candied molasses, but since I still have finger prints, it does not seem that it caused much lasting damage. As an adult home cook, I can admit that candy making is still a little scary, knowing how easy it can be to burn sugar and the burns molten sugar an leave. However, Molasses Popcorn Balls are a lot easier to make than they may at first seem and can be made in less that have half an hour with a simple family recipe that I am told is very similar to, if not the same as, the one made in the 40s and 50s by my grandmother.
1/2 cup of popcorn kernels
1 Tbsp Butter
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup molasses
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 tsp salt
1. After gathering all ingredients, my father would pop the popcorn in an air popper without salting or buttering (any oil used to pop the corn could potentially effect candy sticking to the popcorn). He would always transfer the popcorn from the bowl it popped into into another larger bowl by hand to help make sure that no un-popped kernels would end up in the finished balls, saving on dentist bills and hurt jaws.
2. In a large pot, offering a lot of surface area on the stove's burner, the water, sugar, Malasses, and butter were brought to a boil over medium heat, with the heat reduced as the syrup would start to bubble, stirring to make sure the reducing syrup would not burn on the bottom of the pot.
3. Though some recipes call for checking temperature and specifically looking for a 260 degree Fahrenheit temperature, my father use to watch the texture of the bubbling syrup as it become molten candy and would use a cup of cold water to test the stage of the candy, looking for what is typically called hard-ball stage. Less intimidating than it may sound, using a spoon to drop a small amount of the bubbling candy into a cold cup of water, starting at about 7 minutes after the mixture first starts bubbling, he'd look for a ball to form as the drops hit the water. When the candy was ready, the drops could be pulled from the water after a few seconds and would not be easy to pretty firm when squeezing between 2 fingers.
4. Once the candy was at hard ball stage, the vinegar, vanilla, and salt we added to the mixture and stirred and removed from heat. It was then immediately poured over the popcorn.
5. While the candy was still 260 degrees, it was carefully stirred into the popcorn to ensure an even coat, while not destroying the popcorn. The coated popcorn was set aside for a few minutes to cool, with attention paid to make sure hands did not immediately go into the lava coated popcorn.
As a child, and still today, perfectly timing how long to wait to form the balls seemed and seems the trickiest part of the process. Ambient air temperature and humidity in the air can both play a factor, but ultimate the popcorn balls need to be formed when the mixture is still hotter can comfortable bathwater but cool enough to blister the hands.
6. Using hands that were immaculately clean and coated with butter, my dad would quickly form balls a little larger than baseballs, but smaller than softballs and place them on a sheet of wax paper to cool and harden.
7. They it was a lot of fun to eat the balls while still a little warm and sticky, the intention was always to let the calls cool and they were individually wrapped, so they would not stick together, and were typically all eaten the same day, of not the day after they were made.
Though I have eaten my share of store bought candies, and buy many bags each year, part of me wishes I could spend the night before Halloween making the same type of treats that were made my by grandmother in the 1940s. Then, give them out to kids who may not recognize what they are, but would ultimately be surprised by the balanced sweetness of home made a confection made with care.