Cooking Through Fiction: The Wrath of Mulgarath Crackerjacks
Remember when cereal boxes had awesome prizes inside? Decoder rings, those weird red viewfinder sheets, secret codes, masks you could cut out and wear, and mazes on the back of the box. Remember when you could disassemble the whole cereal box and make a board game or even a house? I remember one cereal box had a “ghost finder” inside. Zoinks! Did I ever test it out? Heck yes! Was it a success? What do you think?
When I think of hidden prizes, I also think of crackerjacks. Although I wasn’t a fan of crackerjacks, I was a fan of the prizes. I guess I’m just in it for the free gifts. Or maybe I just like the suspense of wondering what’s inside. Most of the time I gave away the box of crackerjacks with the deal made that I’d get the free prize in exchange for the sticky popcorn.
I always hoped for an engagement ring inside—something big and gaudy and blue. Usually, I ended up with a lame tattoo of a pirate with bulging eyes. But I still put that sucker on my bicep like a champ. It lasted all of half an hour outside in the south Georgia summer heat, but for those thirty minutes, I was almost cool.
In the final installment of The Spiderwick Chronicles, the Grace children are so close to winning their freedom and saving not only the town, but also their mother, that they don’t take the time to eat. At all. Not a speck of food in the entire book. I mean, when I save the planet, I usually stop for a snack. So, again, I had to take inspiration from where it could be found, and this time it was given to me by a hobgoblin.
“Another goblin followed Jared’s glance. ‘Wormrat will think he did it,’ the goblin said, pointing to Hogsqueal. ‘He was making a fuss before.’ Hogsqueal stood up. ‘Of all the monkey-roasted, cracker-jack-headed…’ A third goblin approached, running its tongue over jagged teeth. ‘So much meat.’ ‘Get away from him!’ Mallory said.” (Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, The Wrath of Mulgarath (The Spiderwick Chronicles #5) [New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004], 64-65)
Today, thanks to Hogsqueal the hobgoblin, I bring you crackerjacks.
Difficulty Level: Easy Peasy
6-8 c freshly popped popcorn (1-1 ½ bags of microwave popcorn)
1 c roasted, lightly salted peanuts (Spanish or regular)
¼ c (½ stick) unsalted butter
¾ c packed brown sugar
¼ c light corn syrup
1 tbsp molasses
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp pure vanilla
¼ tsp baking soda
sea salt, to taste
How to Make
Preheat oven to 250°. Grease a large baking sheet.
Transfer the popped corn to a large stockpot, discarding any unpopped kernels as you go.
Add the peanuts and toss to combine.
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, and salt. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 5-8 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda.
Working quickly, pour the hot caramel into the pot with popcorn and peanuts, and gently toss until the popped corn and nuts are evenly coated.
Spread the popcorn mixture on a greased baking sheet, spreading into a thin, even layer.
Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for 45 minutes.
Sprinkle crackerjack mixture with a little sea salt and allow to cool on pan for 20 minutes.
Separate the popcorn into individual pieces with your hands before serving.
Note: This is best eaten the day it’s made but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
The Spiderwick Chronicles Recipes:
Book 1 - Spiderwick Macaroni & Cheese
Book 3 - The Twins’ Sugar Cookies
Book 4 - Simon’s Rosemary Sea Salt Pretzels
Book 5 - Hogsqueal’s Crackerjacks