Crackerjacks

People had been eating mundane mixures of peanuts and popcorn for at least a couple hundred years before the Rueckheim brothers created a magical mix with molasses at the 1863 Chicago World’s Fair. In a few years, they began marketing Cracker Jack nationally, quite unintentionally becoming the fathers of American junk food.

It wasn’t long before America’s premiere snack became synonymous with America’s premiere sport; the sticky, salty snack became regular fare at baseball games (“Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks/I don’t care if I never get back!”), and among the first “prizes” in a box of crackerjacks were baseball cards. Other early toy surprises included plastic figurines, booklets, and rings such as the one George Peppard gave to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a play on the prizes’ pop-culture status as cheap gifts. Jim Steinman’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”—recorded by Meat Loaf on his 1978 album, Bat Out of Hell—includes the lyric “there ain’t no Coupe de Ville/ hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box”.

Junk food it very well is, but crackerjacks are also a great snack, as junk foods tend to be, of course. Buying crackerjack in bulk can be problematic; however, the basic combination of popcorn, peanuts, and molasses is easily made at home quite easily. Mix 10 cups popped corn and 2 cups Spanish peanuts in a roasting pan. Place in oven at 250. Bring a half cup dark corn syrup, a half cup butter, a quarter cup brown sugar, and a teaspoon of salt to a rolling boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in a teaspoon vanilla. Working quickly, pour over warm popcorn while tossing until well coated. Spread on a shallow baking pan and return to oven, stirring with cooking spray occasionally, for 45 minutes. Don’t let it stick. Turn onto foil to cool.

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