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Just can't get enough popcorn

Peanut Butter and Honey Popcorn is chewy, much like a soft, creamy caramel with some crunch on the inside. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
Peanut Butter and Honey Popcorn can be formed into balls. Lollipop sticks can be poked into the warm popcorn balls, if desired. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

A snack of warm, buttery, freshly popped corn has been one of my favorite treats for as long as I can remember. It stems way back to my childhood when my mom would make popcorn for the family to munch as we sat in front of the black-and-white television watching Dorothy and the little Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz.

Holiday TV specials also warranted a bowl of popcorn. Back to the stove my mom would go to shake a pot of corn kernels over a hot burner.

I've gone through many phases of my own popcorn-making techniques. When I was first married, I read somewhere that to make the best popcorn, you should heat the oil in the pot with just two or three kernels in it. Once those kernels popped, the bottom of the pot could be covered with kernels. I must have been using old, dried-out kernels. The pot started on fire before I ever heard the kernels pop. The small apartment my husband and I lived in filled with smoke. Then the smoke began to waft through the hall of the building. A neighbor called the fire department. My husband rushed out of the building with the burning pot and threw it into a snow bank. No damage done, but I was slightly embarrassed.

It was after that episode that I began using an electric corn popper that had a little dispenser built into the top to fill with butter. As the corn popped, the heat melted the butter and dripped down onto the popped corn. One problem, though. The butter dispenser melted. In the days when I didn't pay attention to fat and sodium, I thought microwave popcorn was the cat's meow - popcorn in minutes with no mess to clean up.

Then there was the pot with a handle on top that turned a blade inside the pot to move the kernels around, allowing all the kernels to pop with no burned popcorn. Mine burned. Finally, my husband took over the popcorn-making responsibilities. He went back to simply shaking a pot of kernels over a hot burner. But, that's not the end of my popcorn-making story.

Shortly after our younger son got married, my husband and I went to Texas to visit the newlyweds. We decided to have popcorn. Our son said his new wife made the best popcorn. As she got started, it looked to me that she would be using the traditional pot-shaking method. She put a bit of oil in the bottom of a pot, sprinkled in some kernels and put the top on the pot. Just as the pot began to heat up, my daughter-in-law got a phone call. And, just as the first little pops sounded from the pot, she left the kitchen. Because of my past experience with a flaming pot, I became quite alarmed that no one was tending to the pot. My son assured me there was nothing to worry about. His wife had everything under control. He was right. The pot never got a shake, yet the popcorn was big and fluffy, crunchy and almost no unpopped kernels in the bottom of the bowl.

That's the corn-popping method we've used ever since. I've been making Peanut Butter and Honey Popcorn for years, ever since my neighbor brought over a bowl that she had mixed up. Her original recipe used half honey and corn syrup. Not so long ago, I began using only honey.

Peanut Butter and Honey Popcorn is not crispy like caramel corn. It is chewy. It's a bit like eating a soft, creamy caramel with some crunch on the inside.

Whatever method you use for popping corn, just get popping and mix up a batch of this sweet, chewy, peanut buttery snack.

Peanut Butter and Honey Popcorn

1/2 cup popcorn kernels

2 tablespoons canola oil

Salt to taste

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup honey

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup roasted, salted peanuts, optional

Heat oven to its lowest temperature.

Line two baking sheets with waxed paper and set aside.

In a large pot on the stove, pop popcorn, using just enough canola oil to cover the bottom of the pot, probably about 2 tablespoons. Transfer popped corn to a large oven-proof bowl. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Place the bowl of popcorn in warm oven.

In a medium saucepot, mix sugar and honey. Over medium heat, bring mixture to a boil. Once it starts to boil, set timer for 3 minutes and continue to stir as mixture bubbles. After 3 minutes, remove pot from heat. Add peanut butter and stir until melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in vanilla.

Remove warm bowl of popcorn from oven. Pour peanut butter syrup over the popped corn and mix well until all the popcorn is coated. Add peanuts at this time, if desired.

Spread the Peanut Butter and Honey Popcorn on two waxed paper-lined baking sheets to cool. Once cool, store the popcorn in a tightly covered bowl or tin.

Tips from the cook

--For this recipe, I use the yellow kernels of unpopped corn, which pop larger than the white variety.

--The warm Peanut Butter and Honey Popcorn can be formed into balls. For each ball, use your lightly buttered hands to shape about 1 cup of popcorn mixture. Lollipop sticks can be poked into the warm balls, if desired.

--The U.S. Popcorn Board says that without moisture -- 13.5 percent to 14 percent per kernel is needed -- popcorn can't pop. Each kernel contains a small drop of water inside a circle of soft starch surrounded by the hard outer surface. As the kernel heats, the drop of water expands and pressure starts to build up. When the hard surface eventually gives way, the popcorn explodes. During the explosion, the soft starch inside the kernel inflates and bursts, turning the entire kernel inside out. That's why it's important to keep popcorn in an airtight glass jar or plastic container stored in a cool cupboard. An entire percentage of moisture can be lost if your kernels are left uncovered on a hot day. And though that may not sound like a lot, it adds up. A loss of 3 percent can render popcorn unpoppable. And even a 1 percent drop in moisture will harm the quality of your kernels.