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caramel cornIn our nearby shopping mall there’s a caramel corn shop that has been there forever. That smell of sweet caramel and freshly popped corn permeates the air and fights only for supremacy with Cinnabon. So it would have been easy to skip over there and pick up a couple of bags, but my little holiday tradition is to make my own.

Terry noted the house smelled especially good as the corn was baking in the oven…and I had to agree.

This recipe comes from my former Mother-in-Law, who passed away just this past summer. I was so glad I could travel back to Kansas just a week before she died to share a few moments together. This caramel corn recipe is just one of many favorites that she passed along to me. I think about the hours spent in her kitchen in Pretty Prairie, Kansas, making all kinds of Midwestern, Mennonite and just plain good, simple food. I am grateful for those memories.

Here’s the recipe….

Crispy Caramel Corn

7 quarts freshly popped popcorn (I use white kernels and air pop enough to fill two big mixing bowls….and try and pick out any unpopped kernels)

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup unsalted butter or margarine

1/2 cup white (Karo) syrup

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

[Note: the original recipe also calls for 1 cup peanuts. I never add the peanuts….but I was thinking it would be good with really any kind of nuts…cashews or pecans or almonds and maybe even a drizzle of white or milk chocolate to change it up].

Once the corn is popped and in bowls (leave room to stir in the caramel sauce), mix together the brown sugar, butter and Karo syrup in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add the vanilla, baking soda and salt. When you add the last ingredients the mixture will “foam” up a bit. You need to move quickly through this stage because as it starts to cool, it will begin to harden. Pour half the mixture over each bowl of popped corn. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the corn to coat with the mixture, taking care not to break up the corn too much. Turn the coated corn out onto cookie sheets (or jelly roll pans)

Place in a preheated 250 degree oven. One sheet on the middle rack and one on the bottom rack. Bake for one hour, stirring and rotating sheets every 15 minutes. I take out one sheet and gently move the corn around and then take the other sheet out, replacing it with the first one, set the timer and then stir the second sheet and put it back in the oven. Repeat three more times to equal an hour baking time.

Turn out the baked corn back into the large bowls and let cool. If there are large chunks of corn, you can break them apart once cooled. Store in Ziplock bags or airtight containers, if you don’t eat it all first.