Sunday, November 21, 2010

Baked Caramel Corn

As a young girl growing up in a large family in Southwest Iowa, I remember our family often took advantage of very strange opportunities. We were no strangers to work, and somehow “work” always revolved around Dad’s stack of 5 gallon buckets. The tougher the job, the more buckets he would get from the porch. We were delighted when the jobs were slight enough to only require one short stack of buckets. One November, in the late 1970’s, Dad loaded the family station wagon with a large stack of buckets. We were all told to bundle up and get in the car. As we drove about 10 miles from our home, my sisters and I asked Dad repeatedly, “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see when we get there” was Dad’s usual response. We arrived at a corn field outside of the neighboring town of Hamburg, Iowa. There were fields and silos and a light dusting of snow on the frozen ground. Dad unloaded the large stack of buckets, took two for him, and instructed each of us girls to take a bucket as he walked toward the field. Still the question “What are we doing?” had yet to be answered. As we neared the first rows of fields, dad picked up an ear of what looked like dried up sweet corn. We told Dad it was no good- it was old and frozen. Dad said “It’s perfect.”
My thought-“Perfect for what?” Dad then explained where we were-Vogel popcorn fields. (Vogel grows over half of the popcorn production in the United States and sells to popcorn giant Orville Redenbacher.)
So there we were- Dad had gained permission to glean the popcorn fields. He gave us quick instructions on how to gather the cobs and not to bother filling our bucket with the dried husks but to do our best to remove them. As a group of five girls ages 4-10, our “best” was certainly a matter of perspective. We worked to fill the buckets and as past family work had indicated, we were never done until the buckets were filled. Upon completion, dad loaded the car and we five girls squished together in the middle seat as the back was full of 5 gallon buckets of popcorn. As you may realize, the work did not end as we drove away. Once home, Dad taught us how to remove the popcorn from the cobs. The first few cobs were kind of fun as we ran our thumbs down the cob and watched to our delight as popcorn kernels fell into our bowls. But hours later, as our thumbs were blistered; this seemed like too much effort. However, our labors paid off in the end. After the work, Mom helped us pop the kernels and occasionally throughout the winter months, we’d have a special family night treat of caramel popcorn.

Baked Caramel Corn
6 quarts of air popped pop corn
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup corn syrup
½ tsp. baking soda

Pop the popcorn, set aside. Combine brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and turn heat down, boiling five minutes. Remove from cook top and stir in baking soda. Mixture will be foamy. Pour it over the popcorn and gently toss, coating each kernel. Divide caramel corn onto two greased jelly roll pans. Bake at 250 degrees for 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread out onto a large surface to cool.
Fancy it up a bit? Once caramel corn is cool, gather it together single layer on a flat surface. Drizzle melted milk or dark chocolate over the caramel corn and let set.


The whole family would huddle together in the kitchen as we watched our popcorn kernels gathered from a frozen field, removed from the cob with tiny blistered thumbs- be transformed into a delightful treat enjoyed by the whole family- who together, under the direction of a wise and resourceful father, had worked so hard to obtain it.

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