Halloween is coming and this reminds me of the homemade popcorn balls that my sweet next-door-neighbor gave out to trick-or-treat goers. I tried making some of this candy confection myself and its pretty good. October brings Food Day as well as World Food Day. It is kind of a stretch, but I made a connection with popcorn, two farm families and Food Day.
October Brings Food Days
October brings several food days, for the socially minded among us. World Food Day is on October 16th this year. It is sponsored by the United States Committee for FAO. The purpose is to bring attention to ending hunger in the world. The theme is “Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth.” Wait. There’s a second Food Day. This one is on October 24th and is sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the theme is “Real Food, Just Food.” This one is more about the policies of food, social justice issues and eating a better diet.
The Weaver Popcorn Family Story
My Food Day story is about Weaver Popcorn and back to the farm where popcorn kernels are gown. One source is the Weaver Popcorn Company which began in Van Buren, Indiana. It was founded by Ira Weaver in 1928, a minister of the Church of the Brethren, and is still family owned. The business now has about 30% of world popcorn sales. Pretty impressive. Walmart and the Boy Scouts are customers. This is the story of a highly successful American farm family that began with simple roots. And they seem to have a sense of civic and environmental awareness–removing a harmful coloring agent from their popcorn, using canola oil in their products, striving for high quality popcorn including scanning every kernel, not using genetically altered corn and supporting labor farm worker rights in California. Plus, if you’ve ever purchased their popcorn at Walmart, it’s pretty good.
Similar Families – But Not Another Popcorn Giant
I find this company fascinating because it parallels my own family. For example, my grandfather–Walter Jeremiah Heisey–was a minister of the Church of the Brethren at about the same time as Ira Weaver. He was from a farm family in the same area of Indiana/Ohio. Both my grandfather and Ira Weaver graduated from Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, as did I. But my grandfather’s family never grew popcorn commercially. They are no longer farmers. The descendants scattered and moved away from Indiana. Could our family have been a popcorn giant? Doubt it. My grandfather was never wealthy, but he had a great humanitarian sense about him; always trying to help the underdog. And hats off to the Weaver family who has “made a commercial success” of family farming and has an environmental awareness.
Back to Food Day
The goals of October 24th Food Day include encouraging us to eat a better diet ourselves and to change policies to make healthier food at the source. Popcorn is perhaps a bit healthier Halloween treat than just candy; although I’m still undecided about handing out something homemade. And for a large part, we are dependent on huge commercial farmers for our source of food. It is encouraging to see a company that is aware of environmental and social issues.
Old-Fashioned Popcorn Balls
For Old-Fashioned Popcorn Balls I reached for a recipe book, “Granddaughter’s Inglenook Cookbook,” published by the Church of the Brethren in 1942. Sure enough, these were farm families who contributed the recipes and there was a page of caramel popcorn and popcorn ball recipes. The original cookbook “Inglenook Cookbook” was published in 1901. Now there is a third generation recipe book, “The New Inglenook Cookbook.” inglenookcookbook.org/
Old-Fashioned Popcorn Balls are actually popcorn balls which are made from a sugar syrup which is a candy confection. Making candy involves cooking a sugar solution to a high temperature to concentrate the sugars.
It is best to monitor the temperature of the syrup with a candy thermometer. An alternate method is to drop a tiny spoonful of the syrup into ice water. If it makes a soft ball which flattens, the candy will be soft and tacky which is firm ball stage. If it makes a hard ball when dropped into the ice water, then the candy will harden at room temperature. This is 254-270 degrees. I personally like a softer candy, and cooked the syrup only to 240 degrees or firm ball stage. The candy thermometer had slightly different ranges for candy that Inglenook Daughter’s Cookbook.
Here is testing a drop of candy in ice water. Watch carefully as the candy boils on the stove. The temperature will increase slowly, then rise rapidly.
Another tip for making candy is to avoid stirring as the syrup boils–this will help avoid crystalline and grainy candy.
Lousiana Steen Cane Syrup
For a Louisiana touch, I used Louisiana Steen’s Cane Syrup in the recipe. This syrup is from sugar cane. It is boiled to concentrate the sugars and has a caramel color and sweeter flavor than corn syrup. It tastes a bit like molasses or caramel. If you don’t have Steen’s Cane Syrup available, light corn syrup works fine.
The “old fashioned” method is to pop the popcorn from kernels. You must have fresh kernels to get really good popcorn, stored in a sealed container. To make popcorn “from scratch,” heat 2 Tbsp peanut oil in heavy, large pot on medium high heat. Add 3 kernels popcorn and wait until they pop. Remove these and add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels and cover pot. Shake pot back and forth to distribute popcorn in oil. Continue to pop until the popping subsides. Remove from heat and remove any un-popped kernels before mixing with the syrup. One batch made 8 cups or 2 quarts, you must make three batches for this recipe.
I find that microwave popcorn is readily available. I used POP Weaver Microwave Popcorn with Butter, of course. I found that one microwave bag made 8 cups of popcorn. This was a 1.08 lb box with 8 microwave bags in it. The syrup recipe is enough for 24 cups (6 quarts) of popcorn. So you need 3 bags. I also found I needed to pop the popcorn for 2 minutes 15 seconds in my microwave oven (which is very old). This is longer than what the microwave popcorn instructions indicate.
Candy is “Hot”
Candy syrup is hot and sticky, so be careful. I placed the popcorn in a turkey roasting pan with foil on the bottom. (Or oil the bottom of the pan.) Stir with a spatula coated with oil or wooden spoon until all the candy is coated. Wait until it is cool enough to handle to form into popcorn balls. However, don’t wait too long, as the candy hardens and then it’s too late. I placed my hands in some zip-lock bags and oiled the bags to avoid sticky fingers.
Popcorn Ball Embellishments
For fun, I added candy corn and miniature marshmallows to the popcorn balls. These can be omitted or find something else interesting to add!
Pop Corn Balls submitted by Mrs. Ed Baker, McFarland, Calif.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup syrup (I used 1/2 cup Louisiana Steen’s Cane Syrup and 1/2 cup corn syrup)
- 1 Tbsp vinegar
- Butter the size of an egg (I’m guessing 1/4 cup)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 8 qt popcorn (I suggest reducing popcorn to 6 quarts using 3 microwave bags of POPWeaver microwave popcorn)
Method and Steps
- Boil until syrup hardens in water. (Use a heavy pot. On medium high heat, add the sugar, syrup, vinegar, butter and salt and monitor with candy thermometer. When confection comes to a boil, do not stir the pot. Watch carefully as it does not take long to reach the proper temperature. I boiled to 240 degrees or firm ball stage or until a drop of the syrup is tacky when dropped in ice water. This is a lower temperature than original recipe indicates.)
- Pour over popped corn. It can be colored pink or green. (I mixed the popcorn with a spatula coated with oil to combine the syrup with the popcorn in a very large tub coated with oil. I suggest a disposable turkey roasting pan or placing aluminum foil in bottom of pan. When the caramel popcorn cooled enough to handle, I added 1 cup candy corn and 2 cup miniature marshmallows and formed the popcorn into balls about the size of one’s palm. Oiling your hands helps–I place my hands inside a zip-lock plastic bag and oiled the bag. Wrap popcorn in cellophane to store, and/or store in airtight container.)
- 1 cups candy cane kernels
- 2 cups miniature marshmallows
NOTE: For the popped popcorn use either plain microwave popcorn or pop your own. On medium-high heat, heat 2 Tbsp peanut oil in very heavy, large pot. Add 3 kernels popcorn and wait until they pop. Remove these and add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels and cover pot. Shake pot back and forth to distribute popcorn in oil. Continue to pop until the popping subsides. Remove from heat and remove any un-popped kernels before mixing with syrup.
NOTE: My comments and suggestions for modifications to original recipe are in parentheses.
Used with Permission from the Brethren Publishing House, Elgin, Illinois. “Pop Corn Balls” in “Grandaughter’s Inglenook Cookbook” 1942. page 68. at cookbook.http://inglenookcookbook.org/
“Food day – real food, just food.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. foodday.org
“World Food Day.” United States Committee for FAO. worldfooddayusa.org
Weaver Popcorn Company. popweaver.com
Weaver Popcorn Company. wikipedia.org/wiki/Weaver_Popcorn_Company
“Weaver Popcorn picks Whitestown for new HQ, production line.” Indianapolis Business Journal (IBS). ibj.com/weaver-popcorn-picks-whitestown-for-new-hq-production-line/PARAMS/article/45999
ISO substitution for Steen’s Cane Syrup at Discuss Cooking Copyright 2002-2012 Social Knowledge, LLC All Rights Reserved. discusscooking.com/forums/f17/iso-substitution-for-steens-cane-syrup-70645.html
Steen’s Cane Syrup wikipedia.org/wiki/Steen%27s_cane_syrup
Steen’s 100% Pure Cane Syrup. Copyright 1996, 1997 by C. S. Steen’s Syrup Mill, Inc. steensyrup.com