This past September I lost someone very dear to me. Her name is Linda. Linda was a wonderful cross between a mom, grandmother, aunt, advisor, and friend. When you’re raised primarily by a single parent the village that rises up around that parent is so important. Linda and her husband Dave were at the center of that village.
Three Christmas Eve’s ago, Linda was diagnosed with cancer, and this Christmas Eve she won’t be there. Nearly every Christmas Eve our family has gathered with Linda and Dave to celebrate, open gifts, sing carols, eat delicious food, and stuff our faces with Linda’s incredible caramel corn. When my siblings and I were young, it was Linda and Dave who surprised us with the most elaborate and wonderful gifts: a trip to Disneyland for our whole family; a kitten for me, my brother, and sister. I know that gifts aren’t the most important part of Christmas, but it should be noted that Linda was the most thoughtful gift giver and maker. She put so much time and thought and care into the gifts she gave whether it be a literal litter of kittens at Christmas, a handmade knitted blanket in anticipation of Lulu’s birth, or a sewn tooth fairy pillow for Gigi to use when she starts losing teeth.
All of Linda’s gifts were given and made with so much love. The gift we looked most forward to from Linda each year was her caramel corn. When we were kids we got small tins filled with it, as teenagers she gave us empty Red Vines containers packed full of it, and as adults we got lots and lots, not only for ourselves but for our boyfriends, girlfriends, and then husbands and kids. Two Christmas’s ago I went to spend a morning with Linda so she could teach me how to make her beloved caramel corn.
Linda’s Caramel Corn is sweet and salty and crunchy; it can be nibbled at or eaten by the handful. It’s the best caramel corn I’ve ever eaten. I treasure the memory of making it with Linda, and setting out to make it as our Christmas gifts this year will be bittersweet and important.
What a gift that I get to take her with me into this holiday and future Christmas’s with her recipe tradition to carry on. I get to stir the caramel and hear her voice echoing instructions in my ear. I get to clean as I go which is something Linda was a pro at, and something I’m not very good at doing. I get to smell the rich caramel as the popcorn bakes and cools, and keep her in my thoughts all the while. I get to eat a handful of it and taste all those Christmas memories, and I get to miss her. Missing her is a blessing because it means that I got to know her and love her and share some of my happiest memories with her. I get to picture her smile when I give the caramel corn to my brother, sister, husband, brother-in-law, daughters, nephews, and mom. Linda made and and gave her caramel corn with so much love and maybe that’s what made it so delicious; so bringing her love, along with mine into the making of this Christmas’ batches is probably the most important element of making it.
This recipe makes a lot of caramel corn, enough to fill three gallon size ziplock bags to the brim. The recipe could be easily cut in half. If you cut it in half still use the full amount of love, there’s no need to reduce that. Happy Holidays to you all.
LINDA’S CARAMEL CORN
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 quarts (about 24 cups) freshly air popped popcorn
Preheat the oven to 200ºF.
Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream of tartar and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring over medium high heat. Boil rapidly to the hard ball stage (250ºF on a candy thermometer).
Remove from heat, stir in baking soda quickly but thoroughly and pour at once over popped corn in a large roasting pan, stirring and tossing gently as you pour. Stir gently until all kernels are coated with a bit of caramel.
Bake at 200ºF for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.
Carefully, turn the caramel corn out onto a counter covered with sheets of parchment or wax paper. Allow to cool before breaking it up a bit.
LINDA’S CARAMEL CORN