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Popcorn balls bring back Christmas memories

My grandmother made popcorn balls at Christmastime, and I remember as a kid hanging over the bowl in her kitchen watching her shape the sweet, sticky balls, so eager to snatch one before I had permission. Unfortunately, I don't have her recipe, but the vivid image of her hands in that sweet-salty syrupy mixture has never left me, and Christmas always makes me think of those breathlessly awaited treats.

At my website, Chickens in the Road, I have a cooking community, Farm Bell Recipes, where readers can post their own favorite recipes to share with one another. A couple of years ago, a reader shared a recipe for "the world's best popcorn balls," and they take me back to my grandmother's like nothing else. I have to agree, they are the world's best.

But first, before we get to the recipe, you need some great popcorn.

Making old-fashioned popcorn on the top of the stove is almost a lost art in today's world of microwave popcorn and fancy air-poppers. Ask your average kid today how to make popcorn and a good number of them are likely to tell you how many minutes it takes in the microwave. If you'd like to make it the old-fashioned way, here's the way to do it.

There's a little bit of a trick to making good popcorn, with no burning and few old maids (unpopped kernels), but it's easy once you know how. This recipe will make approximately 6 quarts of popped corn.

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2/3 cup popcorn kernels

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Put the vegetable oil in the bottom of a large pot. Place three popcorn kernels in the pot. Turn the heat to medium-high. Watch for the kernels to pop. They'll be popping before you know it - don't go away!

Once all three have popped, add all the popcorn and the salt, put on the lid, and remove the pot from the heat for 30 seconds. This allows the rest of the popcorn to warm up before returning to heat, which will mean fewer unpopped kernels in the end. Note: Adding salt before popping helps evenly distribute the salt throughout the popcorn.

Put the pot back on medium-high. Using oven mitts to hold the pot, begin shaking the entire pot over the burner. Try to hold the lid on the pot as you shake so that the cover is just slightly cracked-this helps vent steam and make your popcorn crisp. Continue shaking the pot until you don't hear kernels popping anymore. Remove from heat.

Now you're ready for popcorn balls! This recipe comes from Launi, one of my readers at Chickens in the Road.

World's Best Popcorn Balls:

2 cups packed brown sugar

2 cups light corn syrup

1 cup butter or margarine

6 quarts popped corn

Heat brown sugar, corn syrup, and butter to simmering. Boil rapidly for two minutes. Pour over popcorn in a large bowl and stir until all the popcorn is covered. Allow to rest until cool enough to handle. Cover hands with sandwich bags and form into balls. Cool completely. Wrap individually in plastic bags.

Optional: According to personal preference, stir in peanuts or other treats to the bowl of popcorn before pouring the syrup mixture over it.

If you've been looking for a great caramel popcorn recipe this holiday season to bring back memories - or make new ones - this is it!

Writer Suzanne McMinn lives in Roane County, where she writes every day in her blog, Chickens in the Road, at www.chickensintheroad.com.


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