How to Make Homemade Maple Molasses Caramel Popcorn
CULINARY HISTORIANS OF CANADA 150 FOOD BLOG CHALLENGE SERIES
Prelude: I am a proud Canadian. When the Culinary Historians of Canada (CHC) invited food bloggers to participate in the “CHC Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge”, I knew that I wanted in! What a great way to celebrate and honour Canada’s 150th birthday by featuring a different Canadian dish or discussing a topic which reflects on what it means to be Canadian. For October, the Culinary Historians invited bloggers to post about all things autumnal, including the special foods we associate with Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en and other festivals. The first thing that came to my mind was the treats that my Mom would prepare for the trick or treaters at Hallowe’en. The neighbourhood children knew that my Mom would be giving away some type of special homemade treat like colourful popcorn balls, candy apples, fudge and the ever-popular bags of Maple Molasses Caramel Popcorn, commonly known as Cracker Jacks.
When I was a child, homemade Hallowe’en treats were the norm. We lived in a small village in the country where children worked very hard to earn their Hallowe’en treats as most of the houses were spaced quite far apart. I loved helping with the preparations for Hallowe’en. My father grew some of the biggest and best pumpkins in the area in his large vegetable garden. We set aside a day to carve pumpkins, which became a neighbourhood event with the local kids. Our large front porch was decorated festively with corn stalks and all our jack-o-lanterns. The best part for me was helping to make all the Hallowe’en treats!
I can remember helping my Mom form the colourful popcorn balls into round spheres while the popcorn mixture was still quite warm. Mom always made several mixtures so that there was a multi-coloured selection of popcorn balls to give away. The colourful collection of popcorn balls was placed on a baking tray all ready for the wide-eyed trick-or-treaters.
Making candy apples was also a wonderful childhood memory. My job was to help select the most perfect of the smallest apples when we visited my Uncle Leo’s apple orchard. I would carefully wash and polish them, insert a wooden stick into each, then dip each one into the bright red candy coating and place them on wax paper lined baking sheets so that they would harden in readiness for our scary little guests. They were so beautiful to look at with their brilliant ruby red colour.
By far, my most favourite Hallowe’en treat was making (and eating) Maple Molasses Caramel Popcorn. Everyone sure loved that homemade caramel corn. Mom made this favourite treat often for family gatherings, picnics or an occasional outing to the lake and most importantly, for Hallowe’en night. This addictive treat was a favourite with every kid in the neighbourhood as well as their parents.
The Maple Molasses Caramel Popcorn had a rich, dark candy coating that included uniquely Canadian ingredients such pure maple syrup and Crosby’s Fancy Molasses. Crosby’s Molasses is a Canadian Company that has been in existence since 1879, when Lorenzo George Crosby transported lumber and fish to the West Indies and brought molasses (‘liquid gold’ as it was called), in huge casks back to the East Coast of Canada. For generations, the Crosby family has built a business that provides molasses to consumers and food manufacturers across Canada and the world. Crosby’s Molasses, like maple syrup, is a pure product. There are no additives or preservatives. With ingredients this pure, the end result can only make for outstanding Maple Molasses Caramel Popcorn. Try it! You will love it! The following recipe makes what we would have considered a small batch of Maple Molasses Caramel Popcorn. Mom made several batches at a time to feed a large crowd of trick or treaters and, of course, her little helpers.
Maple Molasses Caramel Popcorn
CHEF TALK: My Mom always used Crosby’s Fancy Molasses in her homemade Maple Molasses Caramel Corn. The recipe is adapted from Crosby’s Molasses website. I included red-skinned peanuts in the ingredient list because this is how my Mom always made her caramel corn. Omit the peanuts for a nut-free version. The caramel corn is delicious either way! This recipe is gluten-free and includes options for dairy free and unrefined sugar.
CHEF TIP: Cooking the coating mixture to a temperature of 250°F/121°C is the ‘hard ball stage’ of cooked sugar chemistry. This means that the syrup will form a hard, sticky ball that holds its shape. If you do not have a candy thermometer, you can check the stage of the cooked sugar syrup by dropping a few drops of the hot syrup into a measuring cup of cold water. If it immediately forms a hard ball, it is ready. Use caution when working with hot syrup.
Crosby’s recommends that Maple Molasses Caramel Corn is best eaten on the same day that it is made. As I recall, whenever we made homemade caramel corn, there were “never” leftovers.
Maple Molasses Caramel Popcorn
Yield: approximately 9 cups of caramel corn
Equipment required: large bowl; spatula or wooden spoon, candy thermometer (optional)
- 8 cups (2 L) popped popping corn (about 1/3 – 1/2 cup/ 70 – 125 ml of kernels)
- 1 ½ cups red-skinned peanuts (optional)
- 6 Tablespoons (90 ml) real maple syrup
- 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) Crosby’s Fancy Molasses
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) organic raw cane sugar or light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 Tablespoons (45 ml) butter or coconut oil
- Preheat oven to 250°F/121°C
- Place popped popcorn in a very large pot or mixing bowl, together with the peanuts. CHEF TIP: Spray the bowl first with pan spray so that the sugar mixture does not stick to the sides of the bowl, then place popped corn into it.
- In a heavy pot stir together the maple syrup, molasses, sugar, water and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring from time to time, until the temperature reaches 250°F/121°C. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, baking soda and butter. Caution! The mixture may bubble furiously!
- Pour the hot liquid over the bowl of popped popcorn and mix gently with a rubber spatula (you don’t want to crush the popcorn). CHEF TIP: I find this task much easier if I use two spatulas or two long wooden spoons to help toss and coat the popcorn. When the popcorn is well coated, scrape the mixture onto a large parchment-lined baking tray.
- Spread the popcorn mixture evenly over the baking tray and bake at 250°F/121°C for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.
- Cool before eating. Enjoy!
I hope you enjoyed reading about my childhood memories of Hallowe’en. I am so grateful for the wonderful memories that I have of my sisters and my Mom making homemade Hallowe’en treats together.
Please share your own Hallowe’en food memories.
A Special Personal Note: This post is dedicated to my Mom (May, 1927 – October, 2017). She would always look forward to hearing about the next Culinary Historian Food blogger challenge topic. Every month, we would discuss the latest topic and share ideas about what I would write about, and I loved including her historical viewpoint. I cherish that special time we shared. Even in her 90th year, we would discuss food-related topics at great length. She has always been and will continue to be my inspiration in life and in my kitchen.
Here is your visual step-by-step procedure on How to Make Maple Molasses Caramel Popcorn:
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- Oven Temperature Accuracy
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Original Recipe – Crosby’s Molasses Caramel Popcorn