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  • Ah, the joys of Halloween! Children running from door to door shouting “Trick or Treat” regaled in costumes of their favorite imaginary heroes or heroines. Haunted houses with skeletons and bats and monsters to go bump in the night. Buckets shaped like pumpkins and Frankenstein heads filled with all forms of confections. And Popcorn Balls.

    What's that you say? You've never had a Popcorn Ball? Oh, you poor depraved (or is that deprived) person. Allow me to introduce you to a confection so pure and delightful as to tempt the angels themselves to become mortal. Combining the most bountiful of nature's goodness, the popcorn ball is a gooey, messy and altogether delightful concoction of rural cooks...or nature, depending on whose story you believe.

    You see, the first popcorn balls, as the legend goes, were the product of nature gone wild. In one field in Nebraska, there stood a crop of sugar cane being hit with a warm rain. The rain was torrential, and soon the sugar was drained from the cane and began flowing downhill to the adjacent farm. There stood a field of corn, ready to be picked, but the sun was so hot the corn began to pop, and as it did, it landed in the syrupy slew, which continued to flow so that the popcorn rolled itself into balls. Local farmers marveled and were about to collect the balls when a swarm of locusts suddenly appeared and ate the mysterious concoctions. The farmer's wives were inspired and set off to recreate the phenomena in their kitchens. That's the absolute truth, I'm told...give or take a lie or two.

    This morning, however, in preparation for the holiday, my wife Sandra began her annual ritual of making popcorn balls. The sounds and smells of the event are wonderful. First the popping of the corn atop our stove, the rattling of the pan to ensure every kernel is popped. And the aroma of fresh popcorn from the pan...breathtaking. Microwave, you say? Never! Popcorn balls require the ancient art of popping the corn over a fire. The popcorn is poured in to a large roasting pan, then sprinkled with a layer of candy corn which is mixed into the popcorn with great alacrity. Next she heats a combination of corn syrup, sugar, salt, margarine and water to precisely the right temperature. When achieved, she pours this mixture over the popcorn and candy base, coats her hands with margarine, and grabs handfuls of the mixture to roll into balls, and place on wax paper to cool.

    When they are cooled comes my favorite part. My task as official taster has always been a source of great pride for me, and I relish the confections she creates. Biting into the chewy, sweet, delicious ball of goodness, I feel a rush of adrenaline flood my senses, and my taste buds spring to life with a rousing demand for more. Once again, the mission is accomplished and the tradition upheld.

    My daughters have all learned this ritual diligently and can produce the coveted confection for their own families and friends. My son's wives have also become privy to the secret allure of the popcorn ball and its majestic and unquestioned superiority to lesser things purchased in stores or prepared using 'shortcuts'.

    Drop by if you are in the vicinity and try one of these wonderful creations. But I'm warning you, you'd better be quick.

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