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ruthie’s ought-to-be-famous absolutely fabulous caramel corn

We visited a number of ruins while on our trip to Sedona, Arizona. We’ve been to each of them before, at least once, but each time we learn a little something new, and each time at various points, we’ll look over at each other and shake our heads in awe. It’s simply incredible – to walk amongst the stacked walls and scattered rocks where they had walked, farmed and hunted, prepared their food and ate their meals, had their babies, played and danced, wove from cotton they’d planted, carved tools from stone and bone, traded, worshipped…and then, around 1400 AD, they left…and no one can say to where, or why. It leaves us rather awestruck and feeling like we should whisper amongst these ruins. And we do.

Palatki ruins, Arizona

These are the curved stone tools (metates) in which the women (primarily) and children would grind their grains.


These people domesticated corn, digging irrigation ditches to bring water to their gardens, carving stone tools to hoe between the rows. Corn was absolutely central to these ancient Americans’ existence. With that on my mind, I turn my own attention to working with corn. But this is child’s play really, nothing serious about it. Well, just one. I’m not one prone to addiction, but this is one thing that comes seriously close to having me in its clutches. It’s my mother’s caramel corn and for years now it’s been showing up at our family Christmas. One or two or more of us will independently prepare it, pack in it tins or cellophane bags and gift one another with it. (We always hope we get one back.) It rarely lasts a day. I’m just sayin’…

Ruthie’s Ought-To-Be-Famous Absolutely Fabulous Caramel Corn

  • 6 quarts popped corn (i.e. 24 cups)
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1½ teaspoons salt (if using salted butter, reduce to 1 teaspoon)
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

to be added later:

  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
Tools: Popcorn popper, candy thermometer, deep baking dish or roasting pan

Preheat oven to 250°F. Place popped corn into a large 4-inch-deep buttered baking pan or roasting pan. Keep popcorn warm in the oven as you prepare the caramel sauce.

In a large saucepan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream of tartar and salt. Measure out the baking soda and have it ready but don’t add at this time.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring continuously. The caramel will begin to boil rapidly. Continue cooking and stirring until the bubbly mixture reaches 250° to 260° F as registered on a candy thermometer.

(For these next steps, you’ll want to act fairly quickly as caramel tends to harden before you know it.)

Remove the popcorn from the oven and have it on the counter nearby. Remove the pan from the stove. Add the baking soda to the caramel sauce, stirring quickly and thoroughly. (It will froth up and fill the pan and look like this.)

Quickly pour the caramel over the popcorn, and promptly stir gently until well-covered.

Reduce oven temperature to 225° F and cook for 1 hour, stirring two or three times during baking.

You may find it helpful to have a very clean countertop available. When the caramel corn comes out of the oven, quickly remove it from its pan and spread it to cool on the clean countertop or on a large cutting board. As soon as it’s cooled just enough to handle, gently separate the pieces of popped corn from one another.

Cool completely and store tightly wrapped. (That’s actually a silly bit of instruction. The last thing you’ll have to worry about with this caramel corn is its “keeping ability.” )

An an option you might try adding Spanish peanuts to the popped corn, prior to pouring on the caramel sauce. About a cup (or so) will do.

I’m going to be making several batches of this in the next couple weeks and intend to “play” with it some. If something wondrous turns up, I’ll be sure to let you know.

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh… please put me on your list:) This looks so heavenly with the caramel splashing all over it… yes, I would be addicted, no doubt about that one!

    December 9, 2011
  2. Oh, I do love this! And the connection between this old family recipe and ancient corn — it makes me feel warmed inside.

    December 9, 2011
  3. This is the most mouth watering treat I can imagine. In the summer there was a Farmer’s Market featuring a man who popped fresh corn kernels in a huge cement-mixer-looking device. The seasonings were added, and he and his wife sold “Kettle Corn.”

    Couldn’t get enough. Thanks to you I don’t have to wait until next summer to enjoy a popped corn flavor fest. I’ll just make your amazing sounding Caramel Corn.


    December 9, 2011
    • I love the idea of stopping by the man with the huge cement cauldron of kettle corn! He’d have a line stretching across the state border though during the chilly holiday season, so good thing you can make your own!

      December 10, 2011
    • Don #

      I love me some kettle Corn!

      December 10, 2011
  4. the second shot is amazing! well done!

    December 9, 2011
  5. Mari Anna #

    Spree -You make everything look so easy and it already tastes delicious in my mind!Accompanied by the gorgeous photos ,it’s fabulous!

    December 9, 2011
  6. Spreesgratefulguineapig #

    This recipe should carry an FDA warning. “Use of this product may seriously impair your self control” . There is a reason the portly rodent expanded to javelina type proportions and this is it. Alot of folks assume that those furry, whiskered cheeks of mine are just naturally plump.
    Truth is I have Ruthie’s ought-to-be famous stuck between cheek and jowl so it just secretes that sweet buttery goodness directly into my bloodstream non-stop, like a nicotine patch. Be very careful with this one! It rates a 6 on the portly rodent scale that stops at 5 !

    December 10, 2011
  7. Don #

    This is the finest caramel corn I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling! You should try it with (slightly over-) roasted Filberts added. Guaranteed, the bowl will be empty before being set down… YUM!

    December 10, 2011
    • Hadn’t thought of roasted hazelnuts (filberts). That DOES sound yum!

      December 11, 2011
  8. Oh wow, love the photos and the recipe. Katherine would love this. She loves kettle corn.

    December 10, 2011
  9. can’t wait to try this! The photos look amazing and I’m certain it tastes even better.

    December 10, 2011
  10. So pretty. And perhaps Ruthie’s Caramel Corn will now be famous because you’ve blogged it 🙂

    December 11, 2011
  11. Oh my, that looks seriously good!

    December 11, 2011
  12. Heaven help us. We did NOT need this recipe! I’m probably going to have to start a 12-step program for this CCA–Caramel Corn Anonymous. 🙂

    December 12, 2011
  13. I’m afraid if I make this, there won’t be any to share. And yes, I have a certain weakness for caramel…

    December 13, 2011
    • You have lots of company in that, Terri.

      December 13, 2011
  14. Elizabeth #

    I would love to try this, yum!
    Hope it turns out, I sometimes have problems with candies that require a thermometer here at high altitude.
    Do you cook the popcorn in an air popper or on the stove with oil?

    December 20, 2011
    • Well, Elizabeth, we cook the popcorn on the stove with a bit of oil, but it really wouldn’t matter at all which method you chose. I so hope it works for you! 🙂

      December 20, 2011

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