Popcorn balls and other ghosts of Christmas Past
posted by: gretchen
They are impossible to eat, but look nice in a big bowl on the kitchen table.
Popcorn balls were a part of every Christmas celebration held by my mom’s side of the family. My grandma and my great-grandmother made them using the same ancient techniques the Mayans used to make the bricks to build the pyramids of the Yucatan peninsula. The pyramids still stand. The hard part for that Mesoamerican civilization was lifting them off what must have been massive sheets of wax paper.
Somewhere near Montrose, Colorado, there is a landfill with several layers of pink and green popcorn balls defying the forces of erosion and decay. Maybe someday Wheel of Fortune will give away fabulous trips to the Popcorn Balls Fields of Montrose County.
Even though I never managed to chew through an entire popcorn ball, I tried every year. Usually, I’d pluck a pink one from the bowl. I’d take a bite and immediately remember how awful they are. For the rest of the holiday, I’d stick to their homemade sugar cookies, which were always perfectly baked and intricately decorated.
I wonder why my grandmothers persisted, year after year, in foisting The Corn God’s technicolor droppings on their loved ones. I recall them, mother and daughter, sitting side by side in the kitchen. Savory foods simmered on the stovetop burners and roasted in the oven. They’d mix and talk, talk and mix.
They’d stir virgin popcorn with hot sugary syrup, dyed green or pink. They’d form balls like boys packing tight snowballs. They’d line up the balls on sheets of wax paper, admonishing everyone to let them cool.
No argument from me.
I suspect the reason popcorn balls kept getting invited back, year after year, was because neither of my grandmothers could picture a holiday without that moment of sitting and mixing, talking and forming, of watching their handiwork line up in pink and green. It had always been done. It was tradition.
Permanence is more than a pyramid or corn-based rocks hidden under a small western city’s edge.
Permanence is sewn deep through the bonds of family. The futility of making an inedible treat was a trifle compared to what they were really doing: Honoring an already permanent bond by revisiting tradition. What they didn’t know is how deeply I am grateful as a woman in charge of my own young family’s traditions.
Their effort, their example, their petrified Jiffy Pop.
May they never crumble.
(If you’d like to make popcorn balls, thus making a personal contribution to the layers of the earth’s crust, I recommend this recipe because it appears to be the closest to my grandmothers’)