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Caramel apples, popcorn balls and the big cheese

For some reason, this time of year makes me think of caramel apples and popcorn balls — you know, those homespun treats invented by early dentists?

To tell the truth, I’m not fond of either of these so-called “convections” from my past. I prefer rotting my teeth a little more systematically with Dots, Gummy Worms and Everlasting Gobstoppers.

Actually, I’m not really sure who invented the caramel apple. It depends on whether one is referring to apples skewered with a small wooden dowel or those impaled with a rinsed, re-used popsicle stick, circa 1970. The latter, of course, was invented by my mother.

The thing I remember most about the caramel apple was wondering what to do with the apple once you finished the caramel. Was there anywhere one could re-dip? You know, one of those places that advertises, “Bring your used apple in for a free dipping?”

Generally speaking, I tossed the barely chewed apple into the woods, which is fine, except for the time my mom was picking poison ivy and came across a long discarded apple and cried, “Hey, free popsicle stick!” It was at that point in my life when I realized all the things she made us do — things like washing and rinsing used Saran Wrap and aluminum foil or scrounging the neighbor’s garbage for peanut butter and mayonnaise jars with a little left in them — was not for the sake of austerity. She was just crazy, though obviously immune to poison ivy.

So I quit eating caramel apples and switched to popcorn balls.

Lethal shards of “edible” glass is what they were. You could put out an eye or break a row of bicuspids with an accurate and timely toss of those cement balls made from Orville Redenbacher and Karo syrup. Even worse, you could eat one.

It was considered almost tragic to find popcorn balls in one’s Halloween bag. It was worse than getting an orange or an over-ripe apple. Kids would stop you in the halls the next day and say things like: “Hey, dude, heard about the popcorn balls. Tough break.”

Considering all I’ve just said, it would be silly to include recipes for caramel apples and popcorn balls in this space, so I won’t. It was just something I’ve always wanted to get off my chest. So there.

Instead, I’m going to make macaroni and cheese for a small army and tell you how I did it.