I was seven when I first learned to cook. After years of sitting on counters with the cooks in my family, mostly my mother and grandmother, I picked up basic kitchen skills like how to scramble an egg, put together a plate of cheese and sausage (back when I ate cured meats with abandon), and make a giant bowl of peanut butter honey popcorn.
While the women in my family taught me how to bake and cook, my grandfather taught me the finer art of snack-making. The man could also clean and fry a fresh caught bluegill or bass on the spot, but it was his homemade chocolates, peanut brittle, and buttered popcorn that called to me.
He stood over the kitchen stove every Sunday night churning the red wood handle on the big black kettle until the last kernel of corn had popped. The popcorn cooled as a stick of butter collapsed in a saucepan. He poured it over the corn and added just enough salt to coat each of the hundred some popped kernels. Other than butter, he measured the popcorn, oil, and salt without measuring them. He didn’t need to. Looking at the shallow reservoir of canola oil in the kettle and the weight of kernels in his hands was enough.
Week after week, he made and stored popcorn in a large tin next to his green leather recliner in the family room where we ate our way through the tin and watched T.V. I sat with him through an episode of 60 Minutes then Dynasty or some other serial show that put me right to sleep.
After spending a weekend with my grandparents, I went home and made popcorn. Instead of butter, I melted honey and peanut butter and poured it on top. I came up with this almond butter version that pairs olive oil, orange zest, honey, and coarse sea salt last week when we were all craving nutty caramel corn. I’m not sure my grandfather would approve, but I have to say—Sunday night popcorn is making a come back.
Salted Almond and Honey Butter Popcorn
Makes 8 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1/4 cup popcorn
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 cup creamy all-natural almond butter, no salt or sugar added (I use Trader Joe’s raw natural almond butter. If you can only find almond butter with salt and/or sugar, you might want to reduce a bit of both in the recipe, or not depending on your taste)
a pinch of coarse sea salt for sprinkling at the end
Place 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy 6-quart pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot (not smoking) add 2 or 3 popcorn kernels and partially cover with a lid so a bit of steam escapes. Once the kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn and shake and move the pan constantly until the popping stops then remove from the heat.
Pour the popcorn into a large serving bowl. Sprinkle the popcorn with the fine sea salt and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Mix lightly to combine; set aside.
Stir the honey, brown sugar, and orange zest together in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Allow the mixture to come to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes until the syrup thickens a little. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the almond butter to fully combine.
Pour the almond butter mixture over the popcorn immediately and stir well with a wooden spoon to evenly coat all the popcorn (I often use the spoon and my hands which can be pretty hot, so if you don’t have restaurant/kitchen hands, use the spoon only). Sprinkle the popcorn with a pinch of coarse sea salt. Let the popcorn sit until it’s cooled to the touch, about 10 minutes or so, depending on how long you can wait.