Nestled deep behind the doors of Mother's fruitwood kitchen cupboards resided two, red plastic sherbet looking vessels. One was taller and had a wide band on the outside, while the other was shorter and a bit more carefree without a band. These cherry- red vessels had caught the attention of my younger brother, Kelly, and I. Being clueless to their nifty purpose, we carefully climbed up and removed them from the cupboard when my mother was not at home.
We then proceeded (with much coaxing from me) to drink a ginger ale cocktail out of them! They were perfect play party celebration glasses and so very festive in cherry red. With The Supremes blasting in the background from the living room hi-fi, we were having a great time. That was until my mother walked in on us and wondered what on earth we were doing pretending to be drinking wine from her popcorn ball makers! After all, we were Norwegian and Danish and such carousing and merriment as if were at the Corner Bar was not at all looked upon by her as even cute. Needless to say, our days at the pub came to a quick standstill while she reminded us that food was not to be taken into our living room.
She then proceeded to tell us that the truly fitting way to use these so-called party glasses was in a much less whimsical manner. With an astonishing rotation of the wrist they could create perfectly round popcorn balls. She later showed us how to scoop with the large vessel "only after the inside had been rubbed with butter" into piles of sticky warm popcorn ball concoctions. When they were dry and completed, we wrapped them in cellophane that was stoplight red, caution yellow, emerald green and midnight blue.
Having popcorn at home was always a treat. My parents had a Kenmore model 6892 (I know this because it always went back in the original box with the owner's manual) electric popper, which was aluminum. They had received it for a wedding gift from Walter and Ruth Olson. It looked like a cross between a top and space ship with a black handle, and it rested on three black feet. The cloth, black and white electric cord was much more impressive than my current charger cord for my cell phone. When one plugged in that Bakelite receptacle, there was a sense of power!
As the kettle was lifted off the heating base, you could actually see the electric coils in the heating unit below would turn a beautiful red orange when hot. I can remember turning off the kitchen light and watching it glow. As kids, we were drawn into its magic. My mother was the only one who used this great notion of a popper, and she preferred to serve popcorn in blonde wooden bowls.
While living in Underwood, I worked part-time at the Rose Theater. Grant Roseth, the owner, loved popcorn. They had a wonderful popcorn maker and he only used one brand (Pops it Plus, I believe) of corn. One Halloween I asked him if I could pop a grand batch of popcorn for making popcorn balls. Wow! It was great experience to make that vast amount of popcorn balls. I made them in every color - even lavender. The Underwood School colors at that time were purple and white so they were a hit. Recently, I learned that the original popcorn popper has been returned to the Rose Theater with the "Restore the Rose" project.
My first introduction to popcorn balls came by the way of the McLean County Fair. They were not available on the midway as that area was reserved for cotton candy, corn dogs and icy flavor drinks. There was an older couple who would from time to time have a booth in the exhibit building where they sold antiques - especially glassware. That was a must visit booth for me. The lady always had a wooden clothes basket full of homemade popcorn balls and they were delicious. Plus, they were only 25 cents each! Yes, when the county fair came to Underwood, each day was a blue-ribbon day when I could enjoy a homemade popcorn ball and the delights of antique glassware.
When we make popcorn balls now, I prefer to use Jolly Time popcorn. Recently I noticed that on the back of their popcorn package you can once again order the popcorn ball makers! They are inexpensive, and if you feel in the festive mood, you may want to order several sets. After all, they can be multi-used as party glasses!
I do prefer to pop my corn on the top of the stove in a large heavy kettle. When heating the oil, I place one kernel of corn into the oil. Once it pops, I know it is time to add the rest of the corn. Over the years we had several stovetop poppers. One of our favorites has the wooden handle crank attached to the lid. One word of caution when popping corn on the stove - never leave it! Traditional popcorn poppers also work well and are often safer to use, especially with children.
I asked Lydia what she likes about popcorn balls and she replied, "well, beyond the salt and sugar taste, I like the crunch. It reminds me of walking on thin ice as it crunches beneath my feet." So this holiday season have a jolly good time creating something that children love to help with in the kitchen. Make a batch of popcorn balls and you will discover that nothing can really compare to the thrill of little eyes, hands and hearts engaged in a holiday treat for all.
Grandma Duursma's Popcorn Balls
This recipe comes from Pastor Mike Pretzer, and he received it from his Dutch grandma. When Mike and Alecia make this recipe, they sometime simply spread it out on wax paper and enjoy in that manner.
Keep in mind that this popcorn spread does remain a little sticky; however, I did set in front of a fan for one hour. You can also divide the syrup and tint one half red and one half green - this makes for a most festive popcorn spread.
If you have the desire to make popcorn balls, you will be most pleased as this mixture clings very well. Feel free to tint the syrup a variety of colors - I especially like blue as it turns a milky pearl blue. It looks great with the finished balls in a large white milk glass bowl. The sea of blue tones is most sumptuous, and with a little imagination, you will be able to identify the shades of reflective blue that were present in the background scene from your childhood church Christmas program. Just like the painted star that shined so brightly on that blue swirled backdrop, these popcorns balls will become a star recipe in your Christmas collection.
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white syrup
2/3 cup butter
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups popcorn, unpopped
Pop the 2 cups of popcorn and place this in a large bowl. Combine the first seven ingredients and bring to a boil or until ball forms in cold water. Pour over popped popcorn and form into balls. Place them on waxed paper until you wrap them.