|Maxine Thornton with coconut rolls and caramel corn. 12/11/08 (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
LEMOYNE - Cracker Jack would go out of business if they had to put their product head to head with Maxine Thornton's microwave caramel corn.
"She makes wonderful caramel corn for Christmas," promised friend Ellie Schober, herself a former Cook's Corner subject.
"Everybody always asks me for that," Thornton acknowledged.
"The people at church, when we have Watch Night on New Year's Eve, they always ask: 'Now, you're bringing your corn, aren't you?'"
Thornton is, in fact, a major culinary asset to her church community, Stony Ridge United Methodist.
With a regular active attendance hovering around 40 to 45 members, everyone's contribution really counts - especially at this time of year.
"We're just starting our annual cookie bake. We start Monday morning and bake and frost all week," Thornton said last Friday.
The annual cookie bake is a vital fundraiser for Stony Ridge Methodist. "We've got 200 dozen cookies ordered."
Sometimes the job gets done in three days, sometimes four, "and sometimes it takes us five. It depends how wore out people get; how well your hands stand up" since all the cookies are sugar-frosted cut-outs.
With all the baking for the church, Thornton had to get her own Christmas baking out of way last week.
She made an extra-large batch of caramel corn and took some to her Brick Street Drummers Christmas party. The Drummers are a Pemberville-based dulcimer group to which both Thornton and Schober belong.
Thornton also brought out her family's coconut roll recipe and made several rolls.
While she willingly makes caramel corn all year round, the coconut roll is strictly a Christmas tradition.
The recipe "was one that my stepmother had many, many years ago. She came into the family when I was 16 and we made it every Christmas from then on."
It's an almost amazingly simple treat to make, considering how richly delicious the roll is. Yet there are only five ingredients, and two of them are nuts.
"It wasn't quite as easy then as it is now," Thornton says, thinking back to her teen years many decades ago.
"The dates, we had to cut up with scissors."
The Brazil nuts and walnuts had to be shelled "and of course the Brazil nuts were really hard to crack." Once the nuts were revealed, "we chopped 'em up with a knife instead of just putting them in a chopper and turning it on like today."
The recipe makes "two nice, big logs or rolls," a perfect amount for her family of five children and their spouses, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Her daughter Margaret, who lives in Columbus, is the biggest fan of the coconut roll, made pleasingly sweet with the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk.
"Some others don't care for coconut so much and yet it all seems to disappear!" Thornton said with a smile.
Since both the coconut roll and caramel corn are so simple, she has agreed to share both recipes with Cook's Corner readers.
The coconut roll will prove a temptation to the cook, Thornton warned.
"It's really good when you're mixing it up and it sticks to your hands. That's real tempting!
"One way to keep it from sticking is just to wet your hands before mixing. Then it won't stick quite so badly and you can make the roll tighter," which is important.
Turning to the caramel corn recipe, Thornton admitted the four separate "microwave, then stir" stages might appear unnecessary, but she doesn't advise any shortcuts.
"All the start and stop and stir is so the syrup gets mixed well, and so it doesn't burn."
The caramel corn recipe comes from her daughter Margaret, who got it from a co-worker many years ago.
Thornton always pulls out her large 15-cup Tupperware mixing bowl when it's time to make a batch. "That just works, because all 15 cups of popped corn can fit in at one time."
Microwave caramel corn
6 Tbs. butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light Karo syrup
1/2tsp. baking soda
15 cups popped corn
Heat butter, brown sugar and Karo syrup in microwave on High for 4 minutes. Add baking soda. Mix. Add popped corn to the above mixture.
Place in microwave for 1 minute, 30 seconds. Stir. Return to microwave for another 1 minute, 30 seconds. Stir. Place in microwave for 30 seconds; stir. Return to microwave for a final 30 seconds; stir.
Cool and break into pieces. Store in air-tight canister.
1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
1 lb. coconut
1 lb. or less of dates, chopped
1 lb. English walnuts, chopped
1 lb. Brazil nuts, chopped
Mix the coconut and milk. Add dates and nuts, mixing very well with your fingers.
Form mixture into two rolls, packing each roll as tightly as possible. Place the two rolls on a buttered cookie sheet. Bake in slow oven (300 degrees) for 45 minutes.
Cool and slice.
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