To me, Fall is a crisp morning with the smell of harvested corn still lingering from the field behind our house. It is rearranging my closet with sweaters and jeans at the forefront. And it is reliving the anticipation with my children of Halloween costumes and giant mounds of candy.
This year, a memory came wafting back to me from my childhood as I stood in line for caramel corn at a Fall festival. Each year for Halloween, my sweet Grandma measured, stirred, and lovingly molded sticky popcorn balls to wrap in plastic wrap and hand out to local trick-or-treaters. She used her own recipe and, needless to say, was cleaned out in only a few hours. More special than the hand-crafted caramel corn balls, was the fact that she set aside a “special bowl” for her grandchildren. Inside each reserved popcorn ball was a surprise: a big ol’ shiny fifty cent piece wrapped in plastic wrap!
Of course, these were the days when homemade goodies were safe to give and receive, but I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing from our family’s current Halloween celebration. Brightly wrapped processed candies are a dime a dozen, but a homemade caramel corn ball, with a rare (in my child’s mind) coin inside, now that’s pretty special. To this day, I still have all of my Halloween coins!
So, I decided to try this tradition with my own kids, adding a few tweaks of my own. When the weather gets cold, it’s hard to find things to entertain the kiddos inside, but this is the PERFECT stay inside activity to keep them having a blast for, dare I say…hours?! It all starts with:
1) An air popcorn popper with the lid off, 2) popcorn kernels, and 3) a sheet.
First build the anticipation of this cool activity by talking it up and getting excited WITH the kids. Then take the sheet, air popper (make sure the lid is OFF), and popcorn kernals to a place on the ground where you don’t mind making a mess. You can tell a story, do a tribal dance around the popper, whatever gets ’em going, really. Then plug the popper in and let it do its magic!
Next came our yummy caramel corn balls. Bring to JUST a boil: 1 cube of butter, 3/4 c. white Karo syrup, and 1 1/2 c. brown sugar. Don’t let it boil too long, or the caramel will be too hard. Next comes the SECRET ingredient: stir in 1/2 tsp. of coconut extract. I promise you, this really makes the recipe! Pour over popped corn and form balls.
Wrap your “prize” in plastic wrap and insert it into the center.
This tradition has made a big impact on my little girl self. Seeing the pure delight in my little girl’s and little boy’s eyes as they dove for flying popcorn kernels and each opened their “surprise” caramel corn ball, was concrete evidence that this tradition MUST CARRY ON! I hope to give my kids a Halloween that is a little less commercial and a lot more memorable.