Home Cookin'

This time of year, when the leaves start turning colors and the weather starts to grow cool, our thoughts turn to the harvest. This is the time of year when the weather grows colder and we start to think of the long winter ahead of us. Children look forward to Halloween and are getting their costumes ready for the big day. We call it "Beggar’s Night" here in the Midwest, and it usually falls the day before or a couple days before Halloween. Smaller communities in the area do this to give the children a chance to visit other local communities in the area, some even come into Des Moines.

As a child, we visited neighboring farms and the town closest to us. One of my favorite treats as a child were the popcorn balls made by my best friend's mom. The popcorn balls stuck to our teeth but we didn’t care, that was part of the charm. They always were the best, and it’s a tradition that continues today. I make sure my kids' first stop in town is their house. Phyllis was kind enough to give me the recipe to share with you today.

First, pop six quarts or more of popcorn and set it aside to cool. Then, in a large saucepan, combine two cups of white sugar, one cup of light kayro syrup, two teaspoons of cream of tartar and one tablespoon of butter. Phyllis says she omits the cream of tartar because it lends a bitter taste to the popcorn balls.

Bring the ingredients in the saucepan to the hard boil stage, so that it forms a hard ball when you stir it. Remove the pan from the heat and add one half to one teaspoon of baking soda to it, making sure to stir thoroughly.

Phyllis says it's easier to mix half of the popcorn and half of the carmel at a time to get the popcorn more thoroughly coated. To keep the balls from sticking to your hand while you are forming the ball shapes rub butter on your hands. Then place the balls on waxed paper to cool. Once the balls are cool, you can place them in individual baggies for the trick-or-treaters.

One variation Phyllis suggested was adding a box of Jell-O to the syrup to make flavored balls. You can use orange Jell-O to make pumpkins and then pipe a little bit of green frosting on each for a stem. You can also make multi-colored balls by taking small batches of different colored popcorn and then combining them into a ball. Another fun way to serve them is to place each ball on a stick, like a giant lollipop or candy apple.

Phyllis’ Halloween Popcorn Balls

  • 2 c. white sugar
  • 1 c. light kayro syrup
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar (optional)
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. soda (or up to 1 teaspoon)
  • 6 qt. or little more popped popcorn

Cook the first 4 ingredients to hard boil stage, so that it forms a hard ball. Remove from heat, add soda, and stir thoroughly. Mix 1/2 of the popcorn and 1/2 of the syrup together, then form into balls. Too keep the mixture from sticking to your hands, use butter on your hands. Set on wax paper to cool. When cool, place in baggies. This recipe can be used year round for bazaar’s, fairs, picnics, and children’s parties or at Christmas time.

  • Yields: depends on the size of the balls
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Another good recipe that I like to make is kettle corn. You can often find kettle corn at farmers' markets and festivals year round here. It is usually made in a giant black kettle over a wood fire. This kettle could fit a small child inside of it! What I have done is taken the recipe used and changed it so that it can be used in the home for a batch at a time.

Start by popping your popcorn as you would normally, using about a tablespoon or two of oil. I use olive oil. Put your popcorn in the oil and let it cook just until the first kernel starts to pop. Once the popcorn starts popping, add a tablespoon to a tablespoon and a half of white sugar and about a half a teaspoon of salt (more salt can be added later). Stir this constantly so that the sugar doesn’t begin to burn on the bottom of the pan. I like to use a popcorn pan that has a built in handle for stirring the popcorn because you want to keep stirring the popcorn until all or most of the kernels have popped, as you would when making regular popcorn. Be careful when taking the lid off because there will be steam. Dump the popcorn into a large bowl and stir a little longer to help distribute the syrup. Salt to taste and enjoy. Kettle corn can be frozen indefinitely. It makes a great snack all year round. You could mix peanuts in with the kettle corn once it is popped or use it in a chex mix.

Kettle Corn

  • One pan popcorn
  • 1-2 T. oil
  • 1 T. sugar (you can add up to 1 ½ tablespoon)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (more can be added later)

Pop the popcorn as you would normally in the pan. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Once the kernels start to pop, add the sugar and salt. Stir constantly until all of the kernels are popped. This MUST be stirred constantly so the syrup is evenly distributed and the popcorn doesn’t burn. Once all of the kernels have popped place in a large bowl and stir a little while longer making sure to get the syrup evenly distributed. Salt to taste.

  • Yields: about 6-8 cups
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Enjoy the recipes and I hope you have a safe and fun Halloween!