Ok, so you are looking at today’s holiday and realizing that it’s National Caramel Popcorn Day which has conveniently fallen the day after National Caramel Day. We’re not really stretching our imagination on this one but hey, I don’t make the holidays, I just celebrate them. Had all things all gone well, I wondered if I could have melted down one of my homemade caramels and added it to popcorn to make caramel popcorn. This may have worked had a produced actual caramels on Caramel Day but I’m not sure if it would work the same with the hard candy caramels that I ended up creating by accident. I looked up a few caramel corn recipes and the recipe is pretty much the same. You heat up sugar, butter and corn syrup until it’s all melty, then you pour it over popped popcorn. That sounded simple enough, but I was still reeling from my caramel failure to be excited about diving into another try. I was worried I would end up with another slab of hard candy only this one would have popcorn preserved inside like dinosaur DNA preserved in amber. So yes, today I shied away from making my own version of caramel corn.
According to the King of Pop.com, which sadly has very little to do with Michael Jackson, caramel popcorn (which can also be called caramel corn) was created in the 1800s. The first sweet popcorn that folks started to make was kettle corn which is popcorn cooked in oil with sugar added into the oil. That’s what gives the kettle corn that sweet and crunchy texture. This was a big innovation in the world of popcorn and quickly took off in popularity and led to more exploration into sweet tasting popcorn. In 1870, brothers Frederick and Louis Rueckheim immigrated to the United States from Germany and settled in Chicago where they opened a popcorn store. Intrigued by the popularity of sweet popcorn, they began to experiment in flavors and tastes. They introduced a new concoction that was a mix of popcorn, peanuts, and molasses that quickly became a hit. When someone tasted it, they exclaimed “That’s a crackerjack!” (which at the time meant “of great quality”), and with that utterance, history was made. By 1896, Cracker Jacks were being mass produced as a popular snack. The success of Cracker Jacks led others to experiment with different types of syrups and coatings to put on popcorn, which is when the caramel corn craze really took off.
I had already decided that I was not going to make caramel corn today and I knew that having a full day of work ahead of me, it would have been hard to have done so. I was therefore going to buy some caramel corn at the store and here is a rare shopping tip from me: always scan the food aisle at Marshalls for good finds. Yes Marshalls, the clothing store where your surprise is waiting. To be honest, this is not an earth-shattering or mind-blowing tip. Most expert shoppers know about the treasures you can find in Marshalls. Lola has always raved about how she will stumble across some true choice pieces there but mostly found in the clothes and shoe categories (with your occasional decorative item and bed linen as well). I’ve been there with her and she will methodically search through each section on a very selective scavenger hunt. When this happens, I usually pace the home goods section in boredom and try to arrange the letter decorations to spell out dirty words. Right next to the home section is the food section and it is chock full of all kinds of product which I will peruse after I use up all the ‘Cs’ in the decor section. Some if the food looks interesting, although some of it looks kind of sketchy. I never really considered it though because I kind of felt it’s like food sold at the Dollar Store at a great discount. I was skeptical that it wouldn’t be any good. That’s when I got my tip from a true professional shopper, Becky (Lola’s sister), who said she finds some great deals there all the time on really delicious foods. She has served us crackers and candy which she has bought at Marshalls and we are always pleasantly surprised. That’s how I knew that the food at Marshalls is no joke and even better, they are Becky approved.
Marshalls is only five minutes away from my work so on my lunch break, I made a quick dash there to see if they had any caramel popcorn. I’m not sure why, but when I knew I was going to buy pre-made caramel corn, Marshalls popped into my mind. I just pictured what a bag would look like and I could see it falling into the type of food they would carry. Most of the food they sell is of the gourmet variety – stuff that you could give as gifts or bust out for parties. Quality items but available at a discount (like all the product at Marshalls). Caramel corn, at least in my mind, seemed to fit that category so that’s where I went (plus it was super convenient). I drove over and headed through the doors and made a mad dash for the food section. Lo and behold, it was one of the first things I saw. It was from a company called Pops A Lot which is a gourmet popcorn company from Beverly Hills (Donna Martin approved). The flavor was called Clandestine Caramel and it was just $2.99 for a bag – a bargain! I picked it up and headed to the check out line where I also picked up a bag of coffee which we needed and was pretty convenient to grab it there. The check out line was moving fast, but it was 5 or 6 people deep which surprised me. In fact, the fact that there was as many people in the store as there were surprised me. Apparently a lot of people like shopping in the middle of the day. My other observation was that all those people need to understand how to use shopping carts in crowded areas, but that’s a whole other story for another day about my shopping cart beliefs.
The bag sat in my car for the rest of the day. When I got home from work, I still needed to write my blog from yesterday and Lola was still knee deep in note cards and working hard, so we made a quick agreement to stay in our spots to do some work and then reassemble for dinner at around 7 pm. Naturally we would need a snack to tide us over until then, so I busted out the caramel corn. I gave us each a bowl.
This was pretty good stuff. It was fresh tasting or at least the corn had not gotten soggy. The caramel added sweetness – a good, rich creamy caramel flavor that clung to every kernel. Each bite had a nice crispiness to it too, just the way you like it. It was a great sweet treat and my bowl was gone in no time. That gave me the energy to get me to dinner time. I am actually not sure what Lola thought because I never asked her. When I came back out, her bowl was gone – so that was a good sign that she liked it. I liked it too, but the more I ate, the more I wanted the saltiness of some nuts alongside it. Maybe my palate is just trained to Cracker Jacks where you get that combination of the sweet corn and salty nuts. So after a few bites of the sweet corn here, I was really craving a little something extra. It was good, but it could have been great with the salty/sweet combination. Just my opinion. Still, I would recommend the product. It delivers the sweet deliciousness you want in caramel corn.
Now that you know what a selective shopper I am, I may start to adding weekly shopping tips to this blog. I guess I have been throwing out some tips all along – I certainly tout the goodness of Clements here. It’s funny what your mind soaks in. My memory of trips to Marshalls are not particularly pleasant. They are either of being stranded in the stuffy air trying to amuse myself while Lola scans the aisles or they are of crowded racks with people and their shopping carts getting in my way. But for whatever reason, the food aisle stuck out in my mind as did the approval from Becky, so that got me to my celebration today. I guess it takes a village to make this quest. Either way, the end result was a tasty new product that I got to snack on while waiting for dinner. That’s the perfect way to celebrate a day devoted to a snack food. It gave me the sweetness and energy I needed at the end of a long day, so that is what we call a pretty cracker jack day.
Next Up: National Beer Day!