Popcorn balls burn so good

Blame sore fingers on the nearly weeklong lapse in entries to this blog.

I’ve nursed at least one minor burn every Christmas spent with my dad’s side of the family for the past 15 years or so. And I’m not the only one suffering after the family’s annual popcorn-ball spree.

The only way to avoid injury during this task is by slathering one’s hands in a thick film of margarine before attempting to mold the corn, which has been coated in a molten mixture of Karo syrup and sugar. But there’s always some small spot that goes unattended or a momentary lapse in judgement.

This year, I tried to flick a single piece of popcorn from the rim of the big, stainless-steel bowl I was turning round and round while Mom drizzled it with hot candy. Just that split second of contact left a painful blister on the end of my ring finger.

About halfway through our first batch, I remembered the Jolly Time popcorn-ball maker I had received in a press packet sent to the newspaper sometime over the past year.

“Your grandma has been saying for years that we should buy those,” my mom commented.

I pulled the red plastic molds from a drawer and scanned the directions — nothing about greasing it before using. So I simply plunged it into the bowl, scooped up some corn and pushed the two ends together. I was left with two halves of a popcorn ball stuck inside.

After I extricated the mass of crunchy corn, I decided to grease the interior of each mold. The next popcorn ball was pried out a little easier, but I was still left with pieces instead of a whole sphere. Even if we could have formed a whole ball, the mold was too cumbersome and made for slow going. I doubted it could handle an entire batch of corn before the candy hardened.

But then again, the failure could be blamed on user error. If anyone’s had success with Jolly Time’s popcorn ball maker, let me in on your secret.

Until then, my family’s sticking with the old-fashioned method regardless of how much it hurts. Try our recipe for yourself.

Lemon Family Special Popcorn Balls

3 cups sugar

1 cup white Karo syrup

3/4 cup margarine or butter (see note)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

7 quarts plain, popped corn

Butter or margarine, for greasing hands

Mix the sugar, Karo syrup, butter and salt with 1 cup water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat but keep boiling until a candy thermometer attached to side of pan reaches 270 degrees. Remove from heat and add the vanilla.

Pour candy mixture evenly over popped corn in a large mixing bowl, stirring to evenly distribute liquid. Grease palms and backs of hands and mold corn into balls, working quickly before candy can harden. Place balls on wax paper to cool. When cool, wrap each in plastic wrap. Balls store at room temperature for several weeks.

Makes 15 to 20 popcorn balls.

NOTE: I prefer butter over margarine in just about every recipe except this one. Margarine seems to yield a stickier candy, and butter definitely isn’t worth wasting simply to grease hands.

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