When my mother was a little girl, a nearby neighbor made Popcorn Balls for Halloween. "I don't remember which house we were living in or who she was, but ooooh they were so good" she recalls. "They were a real treat because we didn't have marshmallows back then. They were tricky to make."
Let that settle in for a moment.
So when I was a little girl my Mom made them every year, piling them into a wicker basket for trick-or-treaters. After I left for college Mom still sent Popcorn Balls in care packages, and now that I have little goblins of my own, she sends us home with them when we visit for Halloween.
They never last long.
If you would like to try them, I've included two recipes for Popcorn Balls: Lucie's original that requires cooking sugar, and Sue’s recipe with marshmallows.
If the world supply of marshmallows runs low, the old recipe does the trick. But honestly, it's a bit of a hassle.
For simplicity’s sake, Sue’s marshmallow recipe is easier.
What is your favorite childhood treat?
Lucie's Popcorn Balls
16 cups popped popcorn 2 cups sugar 1 ½ cups water ½ cup light corn syrup Dash of salt Food coloring
In a small saucepan, cook all ingredients except popcorn over medium-high heat to soft ball stage (135°-140° on candy thermometer). Remove from heat and quickly stir in a few drops of food coloring. Slowly pour syrup over popcorn, stirring quickly as you do with a wooden spoon.
While the mixture is still warm, form popcorn into balls with hands liberally greased with vegetable oil or shortening. Place onto waxed paper. When cool, wrap individually in plastic bags.
Sue's Popcorn Balls
1 roasting pan full of popped popcorn (about 24 cups) 1 bag marshmallows 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) Orange food coloring
Microwave marshmallows and butter in a large glass bowl 1 minute at a time, stirring after each minute, until melted. Stir in a few drops of food coloring. Pour over popcorn and stir thoroughly.
While the mixture is still warm, form popcorn into balls with hands liberally greased with vegetable oil or butter. Place onto waxed paper. When cool, wrap individually in plastic bags.
Have you ever met a friend that you feel like you've known for years? Just a few short weeks ago I met a such a gem in Ronne Rock. We share a love of food and its power to heal, and she also happens to be a gifted writer that invites her readers in to sit for a spell. Today she offers her recipe for Potato Soup and Cornbread, something my grandmother used to make when I was a child. And potatoes are harvesting right now at our farmers market, so this is perfect timing. Read on for a serving of comfort and delicious potato soup:
Folks who know me ask about Kitchen Therapy – it’s what I call time spent with family and friends in the kitchen or gathered around the dining table. I call it therapy because I’ve found it’s good for my soul. It’s been that way as long as I can remember. You see, the kitchen is my safe place. It started as a child, standing on a chair by my mom as she taught me how to make homemade vanilla custard, drop biscuits, and some of the best roast beef ever. The kitchen was her safe place too.
Mom was born and raised on a farm in a tiny spot of a town called Lynch Station, Virginia – though she found her greatest joy in referring to her home as “The Shenandoah Valley.” The three-story house, built by hand by her dad, included a large kitchen with a big pantry and a beautiful blue wood stove and oven, where Grandma cooked meals for both the family and the men who worked the fields. Mom talked often about her time in the kitchen. She loved the kitchen.
Had she stayed in Virginia, her path would have likely included a job at Lane Furniture Company and a life just down the road from her parents. But she dreamed of something more, something fancy, something far away from that Valley. So, in a move quite scandalous for the era, she packed her bags and traveled to Oklahoma with my dad, a suave older gentleman (12 years her senior) who courted her at a bar and promised her a life without worry. With no family by her side, she married him in a small ceremony at his boss’s house. Dad bought a lovely home in a quiet neighborhood, and she whiled away the hours in the kitchen. It became her sanctuary as the years passed – a harbor from the storms that raged in a marriage that was so much less than the something more she desired.
It was there Mom felt most alive, most connected to those around her and to her heritage. Her Southern food was an extension of her heart, every meal wrapped in mood and emotion. Our home was always filled with the fragrances of fried chicken or sweet potato pie, and the pitchers of sweet tea never emptied. There were no strangers in that kitchen – mom would serve up meals and great conversation with whoever stopped by. And if someone was having a hard day, only one soup had true healing powers – and it wasn’t chicken noodle. Her homemade potato soup, topped with Colby cheese and served with piping hot cornbread, was simply magical. It had the ability to make everything better.
And that potato soup still makes all things feel better. I’ve put my own twist on her recipe, adding a few herbs and broth to deepen the flavor. But the healing power is still the same. This soup is a hug for your heart. It’s the best Kitchen Therapy ever.
Homemade Potato Soup
Makes about 6 servings (unless you are me – then it makes about 2)
5 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cubed 2 carrots, peeled and diced 1 medium onion, diced 1 t. garlic paste 1 quart container vegetable broth ( I use Pacific - it’s gluten-free and very yummy) 1 pint heavy cream 2 cups water 2 T. Herbs de Provence 2 T. butter salt and pepper to taste
Put prepared potatoes, carrots and onion in a Dutch oven and cover with vegetable broth. Cook at medium-high heat until carrots are tender. Reduce heat to low, and add cream, water, garlic paste, and Herbs de Provence. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Finish with butter. Serve piping hot, topped with grated Colby cheese.
Southern Cornbread Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 cups stoneground yellow cornmeal (stoneground is the only way to go) ¾ cup all-purpose flour 1 T. sugar 1 cup frozen whole kernel corn 2-1/2 t. baking powder ½ t. baking soda 1 t. salt 2 cups buttermilk 2 large eggs, beaten ¼ cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven t0 450. Prepare 9-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch cake pan by oiling generously, and place in oven.
Whisk the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl to combine. Make a well in the center. Whisk the buttermilk, eggs, and oil in another bowl until the eggs are well combined. Pour into the well and stir just until the batter is moistened — do not overbeat. Gently fold in corn.
Remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour in the batter. Bake until the cornbread is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, then turn out onto a plate or serve directly from the skillet.
A bit about Ronne
Ronne Rock finds joy in helping people discover their story. She shares her marketing prowess with faith-based organizations, and pours into the lives of others through teaching and losing herself in stories of redemption - and finding her own redemption in the process. She is hopelessly addicted to Hope, a painter of words, a believer in kitchen therapy, and a collector of adventures with those she loves.
Ronne lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband Brad, their son, daughter-in-love, and beautiful grandkids. She considers home to be anywhere her heart finds its beat. She blogs at ronnerock.com, tweets at @ronnerock and posts IG pictures about life and #kitchentherapy at @ronnerock.
Today we are making cabbage rolls. But first, a love story.
Aunt Alice is the 5th of Lucie’s children, the 3rd daughter in a chorus line of girls. She is a calm force, gentle and kind but with an honesty that grabs you into attention. As a teenager, Alice quietly transitioned from the chaos at home to a family in town that unofficially adopted her. After graduation she went on to nursing school about an hour away. There, at a popular college bar, Alice met Mike for the first time.
Did he have a pickup line? “Oh, yes, he had a good pickup line” she laughs. Of course he did; to meet Mike is to be charmed and entertained. And because Uncle Mike was in training as part of his college boxing scholarship, he wasn’t drinking that night. “That made a good impression.” Alice says.
And so Mike and Alice married and lived their lives. From Michigan they landed in upstate New York, where Mike worked for 30 years in labor relations. They raised three children, welcomed grandchildren and great grandchildren, and mourned a daughter. For 58 years they have been together. Mike and Alice, Alice and Mike. We rarely speak of one without the other.
Then this year happened. Mike’s health problems could not be overcome with his larger-than-life personality, and he passed away in June at the age of 82. To honor him, Alice and her daughter Lynn made 200 Cabbage Rolls for his funeral. The dish was a favorite of Uncle Mike’s Slovakian heritage, the recipe handed down from his mother to his wife. “It was a labor of love” says Lynn.
Alice graciously shares her recipe with us here. Like a good marriage, it takes practice to get just right. But it’s worth it.
Baba’s Stuffed Cabbage Rolls* From Alice (Olmstead) Palatas via Suzanne Palatas
Ingredients 1 medium to large head of cabbage 1 – 1 ½ lbs. ground beef (can use ground pork or a combination if desired) ¼ c. uncooked rice 1 c. onion, chopped 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced Salt & Pepper and other spices (parsley, etc. ) as desired. Instructions:
Remove some of the core from the raw whole cabbage with a sharp knife. Place whole cabbage into a large pot of boiling water, boiling slowly. With a large fork, lift cabbage and remove outer leaves and continue to blanch cabbage , removing leaves. DO NOT overcook outer leaves. Only boil a total of 3-5 minutes as you continue to remove leaves. Cut around core when removing outer leaves. Place leaves on paper towels to remove moisture. Remove the midrib by cutting a small wedge out of each leaf where some of core remains.
Sauté onion and garlic in 2 tsp of butter or oil. Partially cook rice and strain if water remains in it.
Mix ground meat, onion, garlic, rice and salt & pepper & other spices if desired. Place 1-2 Tbsp meat mixture on cabbage leaf and roll up , tucking in ends -- like a burrito. *
Place rolls into a large casserole pan or 9 x 13 pan. Mix 1 -2 cans of tomato soup with 1 can of water and other tomato sauce if desired to cover Cabbage rolls. Cover and bake for 2 hrs at 325°.
*From Lynn Palatas: Baba is the Slovakian name for Grandma, which is what all of my parent's grandkids call my mom. Zedo was my dad, i.e., Grandpa. I always make two heads of cabbage and freeze these before cooking -- easy to throw in the crock pot.