Popcorn has been around for what seems like forever. Sweet popcorn, or kettle corn, has been in America since the 1700's when the Dutch brought it with them - but caramel corn is relatively new (in the grand scheme of things) - it came on the scene in the late 1800's. Two Chicago brothers in the 1870's opened a popcorn store and began experimenting with different flavors, one of which, was a molasses based coating that later became known as Cracker Jack. Caramel Corn is a variation on this but with a sugar base instead of molasses base giving it a lighter but still sweet and buttery flavor.
Caramel coated popcorn - it's the stuff of carnivals but definitely not the stuff in the red and white striped box - this is rich and buttery but not molasses-y. This recipe is a variation on one my Mom used in the 1970's and it is still caramel-y, sweet and buttery as it was back then.
Grandma Mona's Caramel Corn
1 Cup unpopped Popcorn
1 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
1 Cup Sugar
2 Cups Butter
1/2 Cup White Corn Syrup (like Karo)
1/4 tsp Salt
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
Pre-heat oven to 200
Pop popcorn and sift lightly with fingers into a large pan (like a roasting pan) to make sure there are no unpopped kernels or tiny pieces (you only want the nice fluffy stuff). Place pan in oven to keep warm.
Combine the Brown Sugar, Sugar, Butter, Corn Syrup and Salt in a large pot (make sure to leave plenty of room for it to expand - at least 2") and cook on med-high heat stirring with a whisk until completely combined. Switch to a spoon and stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add Vanilla and Baking Soda (this is when it will foam up), mix well and remove from heat.
Yes, I know, you're thinking "Baking Soda??" but it helps to change the Ph of the caramel mixture so that, not only will it get crispy when dry instead of being soft and, well... caramel-chewey, it also helps make the mixture more voluminous (this is why it foams up) so it will cover more popcorn.
*** Safety Message - This mixture is HOT - it is hot liquid fat and sugar very much like hot lava and if it touches your skin, you will be in a world of hurt (maybe even requiring a trip to the ER) so PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, BE CAREFUL!! This is a grownuups-only activity - keep the kiddos away from you when you are working with the caramel mixture.
If you are careful and safe, you will be just fine. End of Safety Message - that is all ***
Remove pans from oven and let cool for 45 - 60 minutes. The popcorn will be somewhat stuck together in large clumps - you can leave it that way or with very little handling it will break apart. Store in an airtight container.
If you need to re-crisp it after it's been stored, reheat in 200 oven for 30-40 minutes.
My youngest daughter is completely in love with this stuff - she begged me to make it for her class for her Valentines Day party this year. It ended up that two batches made 40 half-full sandwich bags with about a third of a gallon size storage bag left over for snacking.
If you make this, let me know how your turned out.