{recipe} Southern Style Popcorn Balls

This is one of my all time favorite group recipes. I always suggest having at least 2 older people to help, then as many as 1 to 4 kids can comfortably work together. I still remember my grandpa assembly lining us up to pack popcorn when we would visit. This is a great activity that is safe for kids as young as 3. Popcorn balls are simply homemade caramel packed popcorn. They have a little salt and a little sweet ~ they are absolutely fantastic!

2 cups sugar
1 and 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
18 cups popped corn

Pop your popcorn and set it aside in a very large pot or bowl. I like to use regular bag popcorn, movie theater style, but any type works great including plain. In a medium size sauce pan, combine the sugar, water, syrup, vinegar and salt. You're going to cook over high heat at a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, until the temperature reaches 255 degrees on a candy thermometer.

***If you don't have a candy thermometer, you can do an ice water test. Have ready 1 ice cube in a cup with a 1/4 cup of cold water. After your caramel starts to develop color, test your candy by dropping a single drop into the iced water every 1-2 minutes. Pick the drop up ~ If the ball stays in a hard caramel round after picking it up and squishing it a bit, it's ready.***

Stir in the vanilla. This is where help is needed from someone older. This part isn't for kids. Have your helper gently toss the popcorn with a large spoon while you poor the caramel slowly through all the popcorn layers. Try to coat all the popcorn. Be really careful because the mixture is hot.

Let the popcorn and caramel mixture cool to the point where you can comfortably handle it. This is the fun assembly line part. Take a handful of the caramel corn and squish it together to form a ball. Then hand it off to your little helpers to pack them extra tight. Don't worry, there will be plenty to go around. Place each tightly packed popcorn ball onto waxed paper to cool completely.

Colored Corn
This is a really great any time of year project where you can take the fun even further with food coloring. My faves are orange for Halloween, Red for Christmas and Valentine's Day and Green for fun Hulk popcorn balls at kids parties. Just add your food coloring directly to the caramel mixture, when you add the vanilla at the end of the candy stage.

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