It's time to celebrate popcorn


October is National Popcorn Poppin' Month, a time to honor America's favorite magical, munchable maize. You seldom need an excuse to grab a handful of these simple kernels of goodness, but a month-long celebration gives you plenty of time and justification to try new recipes. Whether you make it sweet, savory or salty, plain or pumped up, you'll join your fellow Americans in consuming some 16 billion quarts this year.

October is chosen because it marks the triumphant end to the labor of the spring and summer months. As farmers head into the fields to gather the crops, families and friends gather to celebrate this beloved snack food.

Why do we love popcorn? How can we not? Popcorn is the fun food we eat when we're happy. It's the surprise food with "before" and "after" pictures that would make a Hollywood starlet cry for a makeover. It's the science experiment food kids are entertained and educated by as it miraculously changes from kernel to puff in an instant, hard to soft, non-edible to edible. It's the simple pleasures food that reminds us to slow down. And it's the economical food costing mere pennies per serving.

Popcorn also is a whole grain, which makes it a good-for-you food. As a whole grain, popcorn provides carbohydrates and fiber to the diet and is naturally low in fat and calories. That's good news for your waistline. It's an ideal in-between-meals snack because it satisfies, but doesn't spoil your appetite.

Yet when all is said and done, popcorn is simply a great-tasting food. Surprise your family and friends with a popcorn treat today in honor of National Popcorn Poppin' Month.

Perfect Popcorn Popping Tips

Here are a few tips for perfect popping, every time.

- Warm a heavy pan or skillet with lid. Add approximately 1/4 cup of vegetable oil to the pan, just enough to cover the bottom.

- Drop in two or three kernels and cover. When the kernels pop, add the remaining popcorn. Pour just enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan. Again, cover with the lid.

- Shake the pan while the kernels heat and pop. Occasionally lift the lid slightly to allow steam to escape. When you hear the last few pops, remove the pan from the heat, take off the lid and empty the popped popcorn into a large bowl.


Popcorn balls are an all-time favorite American sweet. Although they might seem a bit old-fashioned and corny, at one time they were extremely fashionable. Baby boomers will recall that popcorn balls were once a quintessential Halloween treat. The house that handed them out was always the hit of the neighborhood.

But much longer ago, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, popcorn balls were one of the most popular confections and often given as gifts. Their popularity spawned an industry of popcorn ball- making gadgets. Victorian families often decorated fireplace mantels, doorways and Christmas trees with ornate ornaments made from popcorn balls. And by the turn of the century, most cookbooks featured at least one recipe.

The first published recipe for popcorn balls in 1861 was simple: "Boil honey, maple, or other sugar to the great thread; pop corn and stick the corn together in balls with the candy." Times have changed, but recipes for popcorn balls haven't. You still need a sugar source (sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, molasses, marshmallows) heated to a thicker stage, mixed with popcorn, cooled enough to allow handling, then formed.

Try your hand at one of the following popcorn recipes this season.

Maple Pumpkin Spice Popcorn

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin spice mix

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

5 cups popped popcorn

In a large saucepan or pot, heat brown sugar, maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice mix over medium heat. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved and mixture is bubbling. Stir in butter until melted and well blended. Add pecans, if desired, and popcorn and stir until well coated.

Allow mixture to cool before serving. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container.

Yield: 5 cups

Cranberry & Chocolate Spiced Popcorn

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes (+ 20 minutes cooling time)

Serves: 6


8 cups popped popcorn

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 oz. dark chocolate, melted

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

In large bowl, toss together popcorn, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, coconut oil, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Lay mixture flat on parchment paper-lined tray. Drizzle with melted chocolate and sprinkle with sea salt.

Let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes or until chocolate sets. Break apart into chunks.

Pop-a-rific Popcorn Balls

3 quarts popped popcorn

1 (1-lb.) pkg. marshmallows

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine

Place popped popcorn in a large bowl. Set aside. In large saucepan, heat marshmallows and butter or margarine over low heat until melted and smooth. Pour over popcorn, tossing gently to mix well. Cool to allow handling (5 minutes). Butter hands well and form 2 1/2-inch balls.

Yield: About 14 balls

Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

3 tablespoons peanut butter

8 cups popped popcorn

1 cup candy-coated peanut candy

Stir sugar, corn syrup, butter and peanut butter together in a large saucepan. Bring to a full boil over medium heat. Stir in popcorn until well coated. Remove pan from heat and stir candy pieces gently into mixture. Cool to allow handling (5 minutes). Butter hands and form into 2-inch balls.

Yield: About 18 balls

Double Chocolate Popcorn Balls

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup corn syrup

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

8 cups popped popcorn

1 cup "M&M's" Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Baking Bits

Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter and cocoa in medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Add popcorn, stirring until evenly coated. Remove from heat. Stir in "M&M's" pieces. Cool to allow handling (5 minutes). Form into 2-inch balls.

Yield: About 18 balls

Down Home Apple Pie Popcorn

Yield: 10 cups


3 tbsp. melted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground allspice

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

8 cups popped popcorn

1 cup dried apple chips, broken into large pieces

1/4 cup toffee bits

Preheat oven to 300 F. Whisk melted butter with vanilla. Toss brown sugar with cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg.

Toss popcorn with butter mixture. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar mixture. Stir. Transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Sprinkle apple chips and toffee bits over top. Bake for 15 minutes or until toffee bits start to melt. Cool before serving.

Tip: Add chopped pecans for extra crunch.

Popcorn Caramel Apples

Yield: 4 Apples


1 quart freshly popped popcorn

1 (9.5 oz) package caramels, unwrapped (35 caramels)

1/4 cup light cream or "half and half'

4 lollipop sticks (or wooden candy apple sticks)

4 apples

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Sugar sprinkles

Decorative ribbon, optional

Place popcorn in a large bowl; set aside. Place a sheet of waxed paper on work surface.

Heat caramels and cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir frequently until caramels are melted and cream is blended into caramels.

Push a stick into an apple center and dip into caramel. Spoon caramel over apple to coat.

Place caramel-coated apple into bowl of popcorn and press popcorn onto caramel to cover. Place apple on waxed paper to set; repeat with remaining apples.

Place chocolate chips in a small, resealable plastic bag. Microwave 10 seconds and press chips to aid melting. Repeat, heating at 10-second intervals, until chips are completely melted. Cut a small corner off bag and squeeze chocolate onto each apple allowing chocolate to drip down sides. Sprinkle with sugar sprinkles.

Tie a bow to each apple stick, if desired. To serve, cut apple into slices.

Pumpkin Pie Spice Popcorn Bark

Yields: 12 (3 inch squares)


3 cups popped popcorn

1 cup mini marshmallows

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup "O"-shaped crisp cereal

1/2 cup pepitas (salted pumpkin seeds) or shelled sunflower seeds

1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries

1 teaspoon pumpkin spice mix

2 packages (6 ounces each) white baking chocolate, chopped

Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine popcorn, marshmallows, pecans, cereal, pepitas, dried cranberries and pumpkin spice mix.

Place chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in microwave 1 minute. Stir to melt; microwave an additional minute. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Pour melted chocolate over popcorn mixture. Mix until well coated and spread in an even layer into prepared pan. Cool at room temperature until firm (or refrigerate). Cut into squares to serve. Store in an airtight container.

Green Halloween Zombies

Yield: 7 Pieces


2 1/2 quarts popped popcorn

6 tablespoons butter or margarine

3 cups mini marshmallows

4 tablespoons lime gelatin powder

Red gum balls, candy corn, flat green candy strips (or fruit leather), green sugar sprinkles

Place popcorn in a large bowl; set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Stir marshmallows into butter until melted. Stir in gelatin powder until evenly colored. Pour over popcorn and stir until evenly coated. With buttered hands, shape popcorn into 7 oval shapes.

Flatten one oval shape slightly and squeeze one end to form a 'skull' shape. Place onto parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining shapes.

To decorate: Press two gumballs into each skull to form 'eyes'. Press candy corn into skull to from 'teeth'. Use scissors to trim candy strips and press into top for 'hair'. Sprinkle with sugar sprinkles.

Allow 'zombies' to set for about 20 minutes before wrapping individually in plastic wrap (or serve immediately).