It is of vital importance, should one’s recipe for popcorn balls require marshmallows, that “organic” marshmallows be avoided at all costs. The other ingredients for popcorn balls are so vile in a health-conscious and corporate sense — confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup — that attempting to feel less guilty by using marshmallows labeled “organic” is like going into a restaurant and saying: “I’d like to order a double-bacon cheeseburger, a large order of French fries and, um, a diet Coke.”
If a popcorn ball made with organic marshmallows is placed in a bathtub full of water, it will sink, turn grey, eventually decompose and foul your plumbing. The reason tackle shops stick to the real thing and don’t sell little organic marshmallows for bait is that during trials all the fish went belly up before they could be reeled in.
You know how marshmallows, after they have attained a certain age, turn hard, but you can still get them to melt in a mug of hot cocoa? Organic marshmallows? No such luck: they stay hard, sink, turn gray and foul your mug. It is a little-known fact, but all unsold organic marshmallows, petrified little pieces of wood that they are, are taken out of their plastic bags, collected into large bins, dyed brown with old shoe polish and sold as woodstove pellets. Bet you didn’t know that.
The pellets that won’t burn are recollected, bleached and sold to unscrupulous landscaping firms that use them for suburban malls that require quartz bedding, which they label as “xeriscaping.” Bet you didn’t know that, either. It’s all in the fine print.
Ever tried to toast an organic marshmallow over a campfire? Just setting yourself up for disappointment. It will turn into clay, which is what it really is, and be suitable only for chucking at magpies or neighborhood dogs that crap on the lawn. Should you prove to be the rare individual who can coax one to actually soften, the result more resembles the end product of a hot glue gun than something you would willingly place in your mouth. Keep it simple. Stay alive. Stay away.
Avoiding marshmallows altogether in your mix carries added risk, however. Without their softening influence, the corn syrup used as a binder — a fancy way of saying “glue” — runs the risk of hardening into a clear epoxy-like cement. More molars by far have been cracked on hardened corn syrup than un-popped kernels of corn.
Which brings us to the sugar. Another little-known fact of the culinary world is that all confectioners’ sugar is manufactured by shadow corporations of the American Dental Association, just like M&M’s. It’s all in the fine print. It’s all about job security.
So combine these most evil of ingredients — sugar, corn syrup and marshmallows, the three-headed downfall of mankind — melt them with some butter over a low flame, pour the goop over some popcorn, fashion it into balls and you will be the hit of the neighborhood come Halloween.
In certain years the popcorn balls have caused such a frenzy that clever kids will come around to the back door, on the chance you won’t remember them, and hit you up for seconds. They’ll turn their hats around backwards or something like that, to affect an impromptu subterfuge, but you can still tell; there are only so many Little Mermaids and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out there. Their chutzpah, in the end, is invariably rewarded.
Some trick-or-treaters, on the other hand, a little flummoxed by something so unfamiliar and homemade, will appear confused, make a funny face, say “yuck” and demand “real” candy. For these, a sad lament, for they may already be too far gone, conditioned to trust and consume only mass-produced mediocrity. Or maybe they’re just late bloomers. This rejection, though, is something to rejoice, as it means more of the good thing for the rest of us.
Brown sugar may be substituted for white; it results in a gooey-er ball and tastes better. One year, when there was a lot of money in the household, Vermont maple syrup was used in the mix and was out of this world, but had the unintended consequence of parents elbowing their kids out of the way, in some cases knocking them to the turf, and stealing their popcorn balls. We had to call Social Services, but when they showed up they started knocking the parents over. All’s fair when it comes to real maple syrup, especially from Vermont.
Through the years, roasted peanuts and shredded coconut have worked their way into the recipe and add great flavor, a lovely accent. Still, there are kids who wrinkle their noses at coconut. What are they thinking? For them, an adulthood bereft of piña coladas, and what kind of future is that? You can be persnickety, or you can be happy.
Years ago, a careless boast was made to a much-loved godson, who professed an undying passion for popcorn balls and wished for some on the occasion of his birthday. He was promised, impulsively, a popcorn ball bigger than his head.
With much blind faith — there was no guarantee that this was going to work — and industry, and enough syrup and sugar to make the fillings ring just by looking at it, the feat was accomplished. The obscene ball was rolled down the street and presented to the godson, much to his delight and his parents’ consternation.
It lived in his bedroom for months, sometimes on the nightstand, sometimes under the bed, and when the mood struck him, even in the night, he could gnaw on it like a foraging animal. He made it about halfway through, then he got sick of it, then it turned moldy. It ended up getting chucked in the garbage. Too much, perhaps, of a good thing.
Sean can be reached at email@example.com.