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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sister Mabel’s Caramel Corn

From the late Popcorn Meister Orville Redenbacher’s lips to your hips, here’s the popcorn recipe he personally gave me in the early 1980s! With his cherubic face, neatly parted white hair, and natty bow-tie, Orville was unforgettable. His look-alike grandson (a mini-Orville, right down to the bow-tie and sweet-faced smile) accompanied him to the Dallas food fair where we met. 
Orville popped in 1995, when he met the Great Kernel in the Sky. I don’t know who sister Mabel was, but my guess is that she was a professional home economist hired to cultivate Orville’s down-home, folksy image.

Although this recipe also appears on the Internet, the submitters often cut down on the sugar. I don’t. It is superb exactly as written. Likewise, don’t pop extra corn. The caramel corn coating ingredients are perfectly balanced as they are - not too much, not too little. You may also want to try my (borrowed) recipe for World Series Popcorn, which you’ll find indexed under Candy and Confections.
Note: I’ve tried cheaper brands of popcorn to make this recipe, but found too many husks for comfort. If you’re going to have a calorie splurge, you may as well enjoy what you’re eating. I now use only Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popcorn to make this - and no, I’m not being paid to say that. Using a hot air popper cuts the fat and the mess.
Further Note: Once you start this decadently delicious recipe, you’ll have to work fast, so be very clear on the instructions and pre-measure your ingredients in advance. This recipe duplicates the taste of Crackerjack: Add a few peanuts to the mix and you’d never know the difference! It’s a great snack for munching on a patio, boat, or fifth wheel, as well serving to a crowd watching a football game on TV. This recipe makes a very large quantity. I sometimes package it up as a hostess gift or as a small holiday gift. The single best word to describe it is “addictive.” Be warned! 
Sister Mabel’s Caramel Corn:


2 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
½ c. light corn syrup
1 c. hard (solid) margarine or butter
¼ tsp. cream of tartar (Do not omit!)
1 tsp. salt (Do not reduce!)
1 tsp. baking soda (Ditto!)
6 qt. (24 cups) popped corn (see Last Note)
Preheat oven to 200 deg. F. 

In a 2-1/2 qt. (2.4 litre) saucepan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, margarine or butter, cream of tartar, and salt. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continuing to stir constantly, boil rapidly to hard boil stage* (260 deg. F) for about 5 min. Remove from heat. Stir in baking soda quickly but thoroughly; pour at once over popcorn in large roasting or baking pan. Stir until all kernels are coated. Work fast! This takes muscles! 

Bake 1 hr., stirring two or three times during baking. Turn out at once onto waxed paper (I use one or two large cookie sheets), spreading apart and allowing to cool completely. Break apart; store in tightly covered container. Makes 6 qt. 

Last Note: This recipe requires 12 tbsp. or ¾ c. popcorn kernels (2 tbsp. kernels yields 4 c. popped corn).  
If you don’t have a candy thermometer, see http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/candy/sugar-stages.html as a guide to the “hard boil stage.” 

Transfer popped kernels to large roasting pan.

Pour caramel mixture over corn: Mix throughly.

At your pleasure ... YUM!

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