Cotton Candy Popcorn Bars
Updated: Sep 3, 2022
"What was your favorite candy growing up, Mommy?" My youngest waits in anticipation for my answer as I finish mixing a big bowl of what will be this recipe (for the 3rd time in recent months). I press the warm fluffy kernels firmly into a layer and reply, "Hmmm, I don't know buddy. "I didn't really have a favorite candy, I guess." My oldest swoops in, having smelled the confection from seemingly rooms away. He plucks some sticky sweet piece from the top watching in fascination as the light caramel stretches, and folds into a ribbon when it finally breaks. "Sure you did, Mom," he interjects through his mouthful, "It's these!"
I consider his answer and laugh as I look down at how much I've been picking away at the bars too. I refill and press the bars back into an even layer to cover where I've cajoled my own candy coated popcorn pieces from the stack while it cools, and I realize that he's 100% right! "You know what, bud? These are! Great Nanny J used to make popcorn balls every Halloween, filling big brown grocery store bags." I'd have one every night, slightly warmed from the microwave until none remained. They have always been my favorite. "They weren't colored like these though; just plain," I reply. "Though," I continue, "I also liked cotton candy at the Fair - you know, like the kind we had at the Family Fun Fair at your school." "Oh, yeah! That was good! I love cotton candy too!" the littlest joins back in on the conversation interjecting enthusiasm as he stands on tiptoes to pull his own caramel ribboned piece. "These kind of look like cotton candy!" He points to each layer, "Pink. And blue!" And...that's how this recipe got it's name = Cotton Candy Popcorn Bars.
Sustainability Spotlight: Recently, I find myself reminiscing more as I try and reconcile life in modern society between the decades. Things today are infinitely more complicated and complex; sometimes in good ways and sometimes in not very good ways. My children often have conversations like the one above where they try and understand the changing world. They ask my husband and I to recall how it was when we were their age. Or, they try and project into their future by asking questions about when we were older than their ages. These are somewhat difficult conversations to have only because we, as parents, don't feel those projections will apply to their future lives.
Kids used to play outside in the neighborhood; together. As young as 3rd grade, we could go play at the community park by ourselves with their friends and be home hours later. We were wrapped up in a thousand unorganized activities. We were asked to be uncomfortably hot (or cold) and learned to adapt to various social situations without adult oversight. We helped bag groceries in brown paper sacks. We helped pick vegetables and fruits from the garden or the local farm for our food. We did chores. We read and had little TV time, if any. We ate dinner together as a family every night. We caught fireflies and let them go. We hula-hooped, rode our bikes, jumped rope, and played sports with our friends in the street or in the open fields. We skated / rollerbladed. We had paper routes. We were asked to come home when the street lights came on, and we slept soundly every night with just the moon as a nightlight.
Most children in America today may list just a few of the things above as something they have ever done, or that their families do regularly. Cars drive them to sports practices or to one of many other organized activities they have in their filled schedules. Bikes are ridden rarely even though they are stacked in the garage. Balls don't bounce down the street as kids run after them in groups. The air doesn't ring with children's laughter as they create ways to make games and pretend play their way through (largely) unsupervised social times with their peers. Plastic bags are carted home from grocery trips, if they even go - maybe it's just delivered for them, like magic. Dinners are on the go and infrequent events at home. Fireflies are rarely seen except in farmer's open fields. No one has a paper route - it's not "safe" to sell cookies or popcorn door to door. Most kids have never been to a working farm, let alone spent hours picking and pruning for food. Going by yourself to a park is considered dangerous. Kids play video games, chat on their laptops or phones with friends that live only doors away, and engage in limited ways with family on a non-tech basis.
What does any of this have to do with sustainability? Simple. When my generation was growing up, there existed a connectivity to nature. We not only understood the value of the world's resources, but we were engaged by our culture and social construct to embrace them. I have a love for nature because I was asked to participate in nature throughout my childhood. I was asked to consider the use of water, electricity and fuel as a part of my daily life. Many habits and understandings are formed in childhood.
One of the reasons I support sustainability now is because of how I grew up. I'm teaching my kids how to grow up that way too. This blog is meant to inspire our (older) generations to forge those strong bonds with nature in the next, very young, generations. It shouldn't have to up to them to save us all, but it is up to them. We did that to the world; that's on us. But, we can, and should, provide our children with education and experiences that feature nature and sustainability. Most of all, we need to show them through our attitude and actions how to be stewards for the plant in order to help them; help us as a global community.
Take more trips outside. Take more care in how you show your (or other) kids ways to interact in the world. Make them a batch of these popcorn bars and pack them up in reusable containers. Venture out to the park and enjoy what nature has to offer with these sweet treats. Remember what it used to be like, and teach yourself and your kids how it can be in the future!
You can make 1 or 2 layers - the following represents the ingredients and directions for 1 layer. If you want to make the second layer, you need to repeat these ingredients and the directions.
~10 cups air-popped popcorn (Skinny Pop original is what I used)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup Karo light syrup
1/2 cup vegan butter (use salted)
1 envelope of Kool-Aid (any flavor - we used Watermelon (pink) and Blue Raspberry (blue) here)
1/2 tsp baking soda
Place popcorn into an oversize (very large) bowl - you need to be able to stir in the bowl so extra room is needed. Set aside
Get a large 9x13 pan and spray lightly with cooking spray - set aside for now.
heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and melt the butter with sugar and the syrup. Whisk frequently. When the caramel becomes clear and bubbly (~2-3 minutes into the heat), keep whisking as you add the Kool-Aid and the baking soda. Warning! the mix will turn fluffy and expand - this is correct! Remove from heat
Immediately pour caramel over popcorn in the oversize bowl, and stir, stir, stir to coat pieces as evenly as possible.
Transfer popcorn to your prepared 9x13 pan with a rubber spatula and using hands, press firmly into an even layer. Allow to cool in pan.
If making another layer, repeat the ingredients & steps above finishing by pressing the second layer firmly onto the first.
Once the batch has cooled, remove from pan and cut into squares.
To serve, I like to warm each piece (20 seconds in microwave) slightly to get the "gooey" texture.
With love & hope for a better future for all of us - Jamie