Popcorn Balls and Cracker Jacks
Old Christmas Tradition
“No New England Christmas was complete without popcorn balls and colored corn. Sometimes the popcorn was strung and hung on the Christmas tree, at other times the balls were wrapped in colored paper as decorations. But always popping corn and making the sweet syrup for the balls was a part of Christmas preparations.” Secrets of New England Cooking
“Besides making a tasty confection, candied popcorn lends itself well to large, but largely inedible * Christmas decorations.” “…press into balls or lollipops …” Joy of Cooking (1995)
The Making of a New Christmas Tradition
Caramel Corn (Cracker Jack Style)
For the past fifteen years the author has given a package of homemade Caramel Corn as gifts. It has become a special gift for special friends and family.
Candy – What is the difference?
Fudge verses Caramels
“Sugar, milk, corn syrup, and butter”
Fudge: ingredients are cooked to 236 degrees and beaten vigorously – creamy fudge
Caramels: same ingredients but different quantities cooked to 246 degrees and then poured into pans without beating makes caramels – waxy and chewy
(The Basic Cook Book, 1967, p.583)
Popcorn Balls verses Caramel Corn (Cracker Jacks)
Popcorn Balls: are made with one of three different syrups: white sugar syrup, molasses syrup, or brown sugar (caramel) syrup. Syrup is cooked once, poured over the popcorn and molded into balls. Popcorn balls were sometimes tinted pink.
Caramel Corn (Cracker Jack Style): made with a sugar / molasses syrup cooked once, poured over the popcorn and cooked a second time in the oven. The caramel coated popcorn is broken up into individual pieces or small clumps.
25 cups popped corn
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter
½ cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons dark molasses
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1 cup salted peanuts (optional)
Grease a large roasting pan and pour popped corn into it
Preheat oven to 250 degrees
In a 2 quart saucepan combine brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt and molasses. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a full boil (8 to 12 minutes). Continue cooking, but Do Not Stir, until candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees or small amount of mixture dropped into ice water forms a soft ball (2 to 6 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in baking soda and vanilla. Pour over popcorn. Sprinkle peanuts over caramel mixture. Stir until all popcorn is coated.
Bake for 20 minutes; stir. Continue baking for 25 minutes longer. Remove from oven. Immediately place caramel corn on waxed paper; cool completely. Break into small pieces. Store in tightly covered container. Yield: 6 quarts.
This recipe comes from the 1924 edition of the famous Boston Cooking School Cook Book.
5 quarts [20 cups] popped corn
2 cups sugar [white]
1½ cups water
½ cup white [light] corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla
Grease a large roasting pan, and pour popped corn into it
In a 3 quart saucepan combine sugar, water, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil without stirring. Boil until candy thermometer reaches 260 degrees; add vinegar and continue to boil to 264 degrees, hard ball stage. Remove from heat and add vanilla. At this point food coloring can be added to tint syrup for colored popcorn, according to the Joy of Cooking.
Pour syrup on popcorn gradually, “using a spoon all of the time to turn corn that it may be evenly coated.” Butter hands, “make into balls, and let stand in a cold place until brittle.”