Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best Popcorn Ever

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Shhhhh.... I'm about to let you in on a secret. And I'm serious when I say, if you like holiday treats, this popcorn will rock your world. (I don't say rock your world very often.)

I started making Kay's popcorn four years ago, but I've been eating it all my life. And I can't share the recipe without sharing her story.

Kay Coles lived just a few houses down from us on Valley View, where I grew up. She was the loveliest lady. A grandma with grandchildren back east and a heart that could hold the world. At least everyone she met in it. We fondly called Kay, "Candy Coles" because every time we rang her doorbell she'd welcome us into her living room for colored sour balls. Or if it was just me and my sister Deb, she'd take us into the kitchen for milk and chocolate cake, followed by a trip downstairs to her toy room to play with her baby dolls and the beautiful cradles her husband Bob made in his wood shop.

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I remember each time my Mom had a baby, Kay would bring us a gorgeous homemade apple pie, with a thick piped crust, perfectly golden brown, unlike anything I'd ever seen. She was an extraordinary baker. 

And every Christmas she'd walk up the hill to bring us her baked caramel popcorn. She would hand us a ziplock bag with a red bow, packed tight with popcorn, and we'd inhale it in a matter of minutes. Down to the crumbles. You see, Kay's caramel popcorn isn't sticky and gooey like most popcorns. It doesn't cement your teeth together. It melts in your mouth. You have to eat it to believe it. And once you start munching, you can't stop.

So we asked for her recipe. Again and again. But she never divulged. 

"I can't give you the recipe," she'd say. "But I'll make you another batch." And she would.

The year I moved back to Utah, Kay passed away. Her grandchildren lived near us in Virginia and during one of her last visits there, she and Bob stopped by to meet our new baby girls. 

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I am so grateful for this memory with them. Eliza was almost two.

At the funeral, Kay's son mentioned that many people over the years had asked for Kay's popcorn recipe. My sisters and I shared a knowing smile. Then, to our surprise, he announced that he had made copies for those who wanted it after the services.

That Christmas I made bags and bags of popcorn for all our new neighbors. On each bag, I tied a tag that read, "Made at Christmastime in memory of our friend, Kay." I told everyone about Kay. Funny enough, the food editor for the Tribune lived in our neighborhood and she loved it so much she asked if Kay's recipe and story could run in the local paper. I asked Bob for permission and he said yes. 

Kay's popcorn is wonderful for parties, movies, gifts, or to devour right off the pan. Don't be embarrassed if you find yourself greedily scooping up the last of the crumbs off the pan and eating them right out of your hand. We do. Every time.

So here's what you need:

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Kay's Famous Baked Popcorn

6 quarts of popped corn (2-3 scoops of kernels into your air popper)

2 sticks of butter
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup pack brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt

Melt butter in saucepan and add other ingredients. Bring to boil stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and boil 5 minutes without stirring. (This is where you need to be precise. Don't boil longer than 5 min.) Remove from heat and add: 1 tsp. vanilla and 1/2 tsp. baking soda.

Stir to blend well. Pour over popped corn and stir to coat. (You can use a large bowl - but it has to be quite large. Or I've made lots of batches in a large, paper shopping bag. Just put the popped corn into a clean paper bag, pour caramel over the popcorn and stir with a long-handled spoon.)

Spread on 2 large cookie sheets covered with parchment paper. Bake for 1 hour at 250°. Stir every fifteen minutes. Cool and enjoy.

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Recap: Use a large  bowl or shopping bag. Both work well.

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Pop 2-3 rounds of kernels. 3 is almost too much because you can't spread the caramel throughout. 2 1/2 is just right.

Making popcorn is always a family affair.

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This is how the caramel should look while boiling the five minutes without stirring.

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Coat as thoroughly as you can. Work quickly while the caramel is hot and soft. 

Resist the temptation to nibble before the popcorn is baked. It's too chewy. Wait for the caramel to cook and harden in the oven.

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By batch two, send the kids out to play in the snow. (While waiting for the second batch to cook last week, I noticed this fun scene outside our kitchen window.)

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Stir every fifteen minutes. Simply break the popcorn apart with a spoon or spatula, turn it over here and there. Don't be afraid to use your hands to keep it from coming off the pan. (I alternate the pans between upper and lower rack each time I remove them from the oven.) Then cool and enjoy!

I hope you can tell what a treasure this recipe is. Kay perfected it. And now it's yours to share with your family. 

I think of Kay every time we make her famous popcorn. So do my sisters. We will be forever grateful for her magnanimous heart - her desserts, her letters, and her love. I can't wait to see her again. Where reunions are sweet and her popcorn, I believe, will be served by the handful.


  1. I'm going to make this today-thank your for that special recipe. Love all the snow-and kids outside playing!

  2. How funny. About an hour ago, I decided I wanted to make caramel popcorn tonight. Really good, crunchy caramel popcorn. But I needed to find the perfect recipe.... Thanks! :)

  3. Thanks for sharing such a special treat and story. I can't wait to try it!!

  4. Love the story of Kay most of all! You really have a gift for capturing the small beauties of life and of people.

  5. Sarah - I hope it turned out! I wanted to get this post up before New Year's Eve since it is (for us) a big night for treats. Miss you! Love your beautiful family. xoxo

    Tricia - That's awesome! We were out of town and I was wanting to get this post up by New Year's Eve, but we were unable to find a good connection. Finally, we it worked. So glad. Let me know how you liked it! And Happy New Year to you and your darlings!

    Suzanne - I agree. Both are special. Sending love your way!

    Rachel - Yes, the popcorn wouldn't be as sweet without Kay's story. She was one of the purest people I've known. Thanks for seeing the beauty of her good life. xo

  6. Gee, that sounds yummy... Now I have to go and find out how much two sticks of butter are in gramms, and what equals corn syrup...

    I just finished Global Mom -- what a wonderful book, and even though I only moved from Germany to Austria (so there 't all too many language problems...) I could relate to many of the things Melissa wrote about. But the main part, about the "land of loss", and about Parker, was the most touching part. Thank you for the suggestion to read it!

    I have one question, though: a couple of times Melissa wrote about the Blessing of the Bread. It seems that your Church approaches and defines it a bit differently than the Catholic Church. Do have any Suggestion where I can find out more about it?

    Take care,

    1. Corinna, I'm so glad you enjoyed Global Mom. Yes, the land of loss Melissa writes of is incredibly heartbreaking, wrenching, but insightful. And the blessing of the bread is our sacrament ordinance. Similar, I believe, to the eucharist for you. Priests bless bits of broken bread and small cups of water to be eaten/drunk by the congregation. The bread symbolizes Christ's body - bruised and broken for us. The water symbolizes his blood that was shed for us. Both are tokens of his Atoning sacrifice. And we participate in this ordinance every Sunday. It is central to our worship and is a sacred time to renew the covenant we made with God when we were baptized - to always remember Christ and keep His commandments.

      It's interesting your attention would be drawn to the sacrament because I am working on an article right now for Meridian Magazine, in which I write about the significance of the sacrament. And just last night I read this intriguing lesson on that very topic. We will study it this year as part of our church curriculum:

      It's fairly intense, with strong exhortations for members of our church. But Joseph Fielding Smith (president of the LDS church from 1970-1972) captures well the importance of the sacrament and how, if we are not careful, we can partake too casually. Maybe that will be of interest to you. And I'll let you know when my article goes up at Meridian.

      I love your questions. is also a great resource. And so are the full-time missionaries for our church, who are happy to come to your home and answer your questions in person.

      I wish I had the metric conversion on hand for the popcorn recipe! If you figure it out, let me know.

      Lots of love... xo

    2. Oops. Meant to add a second reply to this thread, Corinna. Hope you see it below.

  7. Also, my question for you: Does the Catholic church still believe in transubstantiation? Is that how most Catholics consider the eucharist when they partake of the bread and wine? That it is literally Christ's body and blood? That would probably be the biggest difference - that we see the bread and water as tokens or symbols of remembrance. And how often is the eucharist administered?

    1. Hi Cath,
      thanks for the links, I'll head right over, ;-).

      I might have mentioned it before, but Religion isn't an easy subject for me. Long Story, ;-). Anyway, it's nothing that comes naturally or that I grew up with, but it's more like a long learning and "believing" process, often a struggle, and it's only been in the last years that I came to a wholehearted ... well, Faith.

      But I am still somewhat at odds with the Catholic Church -- the Eucharist is only one of the things I have a problem with -- not so much the transubstantiation, but that the Catholic Church only administers the Eucharist to those who believe in it.

      It is my believe, however, that Christ would break the bread with everyone no matter what his/her denomination or believe, and that he shed his blood for every single one of us.

      So, actually, I never participate -- first, because I think everyone should be welcome, and secondly, because I respect those who believe in the transubstantiation, and do not want to belittle their believes just by participating "just because that's how it's done..."

      Anyway, your question about the Eucharist: it is administered on Sundays but can also be administered on other occasions when a priest is present. A priest has to be present to bless the bread, but then it can be administered by laymen (including women) as well. In our Church, if kids want to participate before they have received their official First Communion, the priest or laymen will draw a cross on their forehead, which I think is a very nice gesture.

      So much babbling -- sorry for that, ;-).

      Btw., how much ounzes are in a stick of butter and how much in a cup? I guess I can convert the measures from there.

      So, _now_ I'll head right over, ;-).

      So long,

  8. thank you for a post that brought back such fond memories of Kay! i will never forget walking home form church on sunday's and making a special detour to Kay's for a sour ball. she made everyone feel as if they were her own grandchild.

  9. I want to try this recipe soon! It sounds delish. I will think of Kay's story and all the other generous kind hearted people I want to be just like someday. Thank you for sharing!


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