Friday, January 11, 2013

Flashback Friday: Grandma's Old-Fashioned Caramel Corn

Flashback Friday: Revisiting a recipe from long ago

I know what you're thinking, another popcorn recipe?  Yep.  I bet I have enough popcorn flavors for an entire series on popcorn, perhaps we'll start that in the future.  For now we'll continue with our new Flashback Friday theme by taking a look at my grandma's caramel corn recipe.

My grandma always stirred up huge batches of her caramel corn for our Christmas Eve celebration.  She served it in one of her many antique red glass bowls.  I was able to make it with her during some of the last years she made it.  We filled huge metal pots with freshly popped popcorn.  These pots were big enough to wash a baby in.  I didn't inquire about their original use, but it wouldn't surprise me if something other than food frequented those pots in years past.  Armed with a heavy saucepan and a candy thermometer we set out to boil the sugar into caramel.

Good, old-fashioned caramel corn requires a little more attention than the quick and easy recipes you see today.  Boiling the syrup all the way to 300 degrees F creates a hard and brittle caramel with a rich, buttery toffee flavor.  Although the caramel is rich and buttery, it actually has 1/2 to 2/3's less butter than its modern counterpart.  The longer boiling time allows for the formation of deeper caramel flavors.  The quick boil recipes include more butter and vanilla to mimic the buttery toffee flavor.  (I also find it interesting that grandma's recipe includes apple cider vinegar.)

Though we used a candy thermometer, my grandma went more by the look of the caramel, declaring that her thermometer was always a little off.  When you lift the spoon high above the pot the dripping caramel should begin to form a fine, brittle wisp or string. (You can see a few of these threads if you look closely in the pictures.)  After the syrup was declared ready we both worked as quickly as possible to coat the popcorn before the caramel hardened.

When you have large, deep pots full of popcorn it's a little tricky to stir in hot syrup with a short spoon.  As a result, the caramel corn usually came out looking more like popcorn with clumps of toffee, but it was still the best caramel corn around.  While it requires more stove-top time, you don't need to bake it in an oven.  However, my grandma usually put it in the oven anyway, sometimes even overnight.  The batch pictured here didn't turn out quite like I remembered, but making something just like grandma takes years of experience.  I'm just thankful I had the chance to make it with her a few times and write down her recipe before it was lost.

Grandma's Old-Fashioned Caramel Corn
recipe from my Grandma

3/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels, (or about 18 cups popped popcorn)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter (plus more for greasing pan)
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp baking soda

* Grease a large roasting pan with butter; set aside. Pop popcorn kernels in an air popper and place popcorn in greased roasting pan, removing any unpopped kernels.
* In a large heavy saucepan combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, corn syrup, butter, water and vinegar. Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches hard-crack stage, 300 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Grandma would lift the spoon high above the saucepan, waiting until the dripping syrup formed brittle threads.
* Remove from heat and stir in baking soda, mixture will foam.  Quickly pour syrup over popcorn and stir to coat.  The caramel corn does not need to be baked, but my grandma always put it in a warm oven (less than 200 degrees F) for a few hours.  Let cool and break into pieces before storing in an airtight container.

Food for Thought: "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." -Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. I just want to tell you that I've made this at least a half-dozen times over the past couple of months, and we LOVE it. Thank you so much for posting it. I used to use a recipe that had to be baked. It never turned out the way I wanted it to, and it was a pain to make. This, though is PERFECT. It's now my go-to caramel corn recipe. :-)

    1. Thanks for letting me know, I'm glad you are enjoying it! I'll let my grandma know too, it will make her day :) She is not able to make her caramel corn for Christmas anymore, but we still use her red dishes (like the bowl above) to hold onto some tradition. I hope you make some fun memories with this caramel corn too!