Today I am sharing a very special treat, one my girls grew up calling Sticky Popcorn. It takes minutes to make and will completely turn your idea of caramel corn on its head.
But first, I want to tell you about Mary.
Back when my oldest girls were little (before some were even born), we lived in a cul-de-sac three doors down from my BFF Cheryl. Next to Cheryl lived a little woman named Mary, age 90ish. Mary lived on her own long past the time when most folks need to have more assistance, and I learned a lot by watching her.
Mary was able to stay independent for so long for two reasons: First, she lived next door to Cheryl and her family. (If you know them, that is all the explanation you need: they are amazing examples of loving and serving their neighbors.) Second, Mary learned to adapt. For example, she kept a fully decked Christmas tree year round. The tree was only about three or four feet tall, and it sat eleven months out of the year in her garage, protected by a white plastic garbage bag tied closed at the top of the tree.
Every December, someone would bring it in from the garage, sit it on a little table, untie the bag and carefully pull it down to reveal the tree hanging with ornaments. Mary would arrange the bag around the base like a tree skirt, and then enjoy her beautiful decorations until the New Year. When the holidays were over, someone would pull the bag back up, tie it off and sit it back in her garage until the following year. As far as I am concerned, it was brilliant!
Which brings me back to Sticky Popcorn. Every Christmas season, Mary would make her caramel corn and give it out to the neighborhood kids in the form of popcorn balls. Normally, I don’t like popcorn balls at all. Never have. They are hard and stick to your teeth, and the popcorn is always gross. So the first time one of my kids offered me a bite, I turned her down. But then as she ate it, I noticed that there was none of the distinctive “crunch-crunch-crunch” and side-of –mouth biting going on like there always was with typical popcorn balls. She just took neat little bites and chewed them satisfyingly – almost like she was eating an ice cream cone. So I snuck a bite. And another. And then another. (Good thing she was little, or I would have never gotten away with that many bites.)
I soon discovered that Mary’s popcorn balls were different from any I had ever had. As soon as I could, I asked her for the recipe and was floored by the simplicity of it. I was soon making Mary’s caramel corn as a family treat almost weekly, although we dispensed with the popcorn “ball” model almost immediately. It’s soft and – despite the name – not really sticky at all. Mostly it’s just wonderful.
I asked Mary once what the best thing about getting old was, and I will never forget what she said:
“By the time you get to be about 80, you can say anything you want to, because no matter what you say, people either think you’re wise or you’re crazy.”
So now, my friends, I am passing this little bit of Mary onto you. Enjoy!
NOTE: The credit for the pictures of Mary goes to my dear friend Cheryl and her husband, Monte. Remember how I said they were amazing? Well, Cheryl has an iffy printer/scanner, and so Monte delivered these photos to me at 10pm last night, in the snow. Really.
Mary's Sticky Popcorn
- 1 cup butter
- 1/2 cup Karo syrup
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup unpopped popcorn or about 8 quarts popped
- Pop popcorn and set aside in large bowl. (I use my biggest Tupperware bowl.)
- Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a full rolling boil. (This is a boil that cannot be stirred down.) Boil 30 sec-1 minute, but not any more than that.
- Immediately remove from heat and pour over popcorn. I usually do this in two big bowls to give myself room to stir, and then pour it all into one bowl.
- Stir and mix to cool. Form into balls if desired.
Mr. B always says he doesn’t like popcorn. Which must be why he ate almost half a batch of Sticky Popcorn last night – all by himself!! Allow me to quote him: (nom-nom-nom) “This popcorn is (nom-nom) really (nom-nom) really (nom-nom-nom) delicious!”