Two years ago I started a Thanksgiving tradition of making maple syrup popcorn balls. I am not quite clear now why I did this since maple sugaring season is in the early spring/late winter. However, I think that my reasoning was that it was the Native Americans who showed early settlers how to "sugar," and I seem to remember a little fictional story of a young Native American boy sharing his maple syrup (or candy) with early settler children around harvest time. So... anyway, it doesn't really matter because this is a fun thing to do with the kids and they love it. Plus, it helps foster patience (for me...) since whisking and waiting for that maple syrup to ball up seems to take forever.
First, put 1/4 cup popcorn kernels in a bit of canola oil and wait to pop.
It's popping! When done, put into a large bowl. If you remember, take out the kernels to make eating the balls easier.
Now for patience... In a small saucepan, combine 1 1/2 tsp. butter (we used Earth Balance soy/dairy free) and 1 cup real maple syrup (mine was room temperature which will speed up cooking time). Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a drop forms a ball in cold water. Mine took about 13 minutes. Once there, pour over popcorn. And yes, Miss Bear is always naked nowadays. At least she keeps the diaper on.
Time to make the balls. Once you poured the candy syrup over the popcorn, grab a sheet of parchment paper and lay on the counter. With a spoon, stir the syrup and popcorn until all the popcorn is coated. Make sure the kids wash their hands if they're helping. The popcorn should be cool enough (though still warm with some hot spots) to form into balls. Ours made about 5 large balls and 5 smaller balls.
After we made the treats, the kids and I sat down (for a much needed rest for me!) to read The First Thanksgiving Story, a perfect story for younger elementary aged children.