Yesterday was Halloween. When I was a child my family made popcorn balls at Halloween and gave them to trick or treaters — that’s back when you could give home-made treats. I always looked forward to the candy and caramel apples at one house and the cookies at another. I didn’t manage to make Louise Rittinger’s recipe for Pop-Corn Balls yesterday so I’m making them today. There are two pop corn related recipes in the candy section of the 1906 Berlin Cook Book but this is the one that talks about turning it into balls.
Popcorn balls and Halloween go back to at least the 1890s. Although trick or treating wasn’t part of a turn of the century Halloween many other familiar traditions already existed. Instead of trick or treating Halloween revolved around adult house parties with costumes, decorations, games – especially fortune-telling games, and special food.
The first task was to pop some popcorn. The method most likely used in 1906 would be the one I grew up with too. Put some oil in a heavy sauce pan and cover the bottom with popcorn kernels. Cover the pan, turn up the heat and start shaking the pot as soon as the corn begins to pop. Keep shaking until the majority of the kernels have popped. Pour out into a bowl (or pan in this case). I simply don’t have a use for the huge amount of popcorn balls this recipe makes. Instead I made a bowl full of popcorn and cut the candy part in half.
I decided to make the molasses version even though the recipe includes the option to use granulated sugar. I was curious to taste a molasses based popcorn ball. I think the type my family made used corn syrup so the technique might end up the same. I used half a cup of molasses and one teaspoon of butter. I kept the heat low at the beginning and then turned it up. I started testing as it thickened. I simply dripped a drop into a cup of water and checked the texture as it cooled. Once it was at soft ball stage (forms a ball in the water that can be picked up). I quickly removed the molasses from the heat and poured it over the popcorn. I don’t have an iron spoon but my regular spoon worked fine. I sneaked a taste before buttering my hands and making three balls. I left the rest as simply candied popcorn.
I wonder if Lottie (Charlotte) Rittinger is related to yesterday’s contributor? She’s not her daughter. In 1901 according to the census, thirteen year old Lottie is living with her parents William and Kate and two older and two younger sisters. The Waterloo Region Generations website shows that just a couple years before the cook book is published Lottie had a baby sister who died at 10 months old. By 1911 Lottie is a stenographer in a rubber factory.
Popcorn balls are one of those things that you either like or not. Gnawing on a chunk of candied popcorn is a test for teeth, especially when you hit a dud also called an old maid (an unpopped kernel). If you are really particular you could check for duds before coating the popcorn. I LOVE this recipe! It was so easy to make and it tasted good. What could be simpler than popcorn, molasses and some butter. It was quick to make too. Popping the corn is the only time-consuming part and a modern cook could use a hot air popper or even microwave popcorn. Try putting a little butter and salt on your plain popped corn to enhance the flavour of the final product.
Take a 3 gallon pan and fill it nearly level full of popped corn, and then take 1 cup of molasses, a little piece of butter and boil it until it will set or try it in cold water, just a drop will do in water and if it sets then pour the molasses all around the corn. Then take a large iron spoon and stir well, when well mixed butter your hands well and take corn in both hands, as much as you can press well together and you will have a large and splendid ball. You can use sugar in the place of molasses if you wish it.