Oct 27, 2009

Tac-Tac...Who's There? Popcorn Balls

Tac-tac is what Cajuns call popcorn. Why? Because of the sound popcorn makes when it pops.

Tac tac tac tac tac tac.

It's Tac-tac like a clock--tock tock, not tac tac like thumb tack.

Some other Cajun words/expressions I find interesting:

Elle a fait le bouder...roughly means she's making a lip, or pouting. I once heard a linguist who specializes in Cajun French talk about this phrase and the similarity between the words bouder (make a lip or pout) and boudin (a Cajun sausage). A link of boudin looks like a big pouty lip.

Elle a mangé le chien ragé...means she ate the rabid dog. Now I know Cajuns eat some pretty weird things, but we don't eat dogs...rabid or otherwise. This phrase means some chick is raging mad. There are other non-French phrases from around here that mean roughly the same thing. Like "I got da red ass."
A: "I got da red ass today, me."
B: "Oh, yeah? Dat so?"
A: "Yeah. My car run off da road an got in a wreck."

Another one would be "man, my sistah's hot." Despite what you've heard about Southerners and incest, in this case the meaning is: my sister is mad.

And here's one that is also the name of a song: Lâche pas la patate! It means "don't drop the potato." When Cajuns say this, they mean hold on, hang in there, or don't give up.

Homespun, cute, and a mix of the bizarre and a certain je ne sais quoi all in one.

But back to tac-tac...er, popcorn. Below is a clip from the song Blues de Tac-tac performed by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys if you'd like to have a listen. The lyrics can pretty much be summed up by saying: I went to the dance last night, ate some popcorn, ate some kernels, and got drunk and I'm gonna do it all over again tonight. Not the most cerebral of songs, but there you go.

This time of year is when you see a lot of boules de tac-tac...popcorn balls. Probably because we make them with cane syrup and Fall is when sugarcane is harvested. I'm not sure. All I know is that popcorn balls are a common Halloween treat around here.

Every year for Halloween my mother-in-law made popcorn balls for the neighborhood trick-or-treaters. Of course this was before some jerkface decided to tamper with Halloween candy and panic followed. She doesn't make popcorn balls anymore. So I thought I'd give it a try this year.

Why? Really. Why do I do these things to myself?

Apparently something is very very wrong with my candy thermometer. It decided that around 200 degrees F is as high as it wants to go from now until the end of time.  So I had to guess, which was really stupid of me to even try. I mean, if you've ever made candy or worked with sugar you know you can't just guess.  If you've never made candy or worked with sugar, trust me...DO NOT GUESS.

I rushed to get a glass of water so I could test the sugar mixture, but I couldn't remember what the stupid stuff should do in said glass of water. I used to know these things.  Have them committed to memory.  But the seductive ease of Google has turned my brain to mush.  I ran around the kitchen trying to find a chart in a cookbook for soft ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack stages. And my sugar mixture boiled on, unattended. And I said some French words (not really...it was clear, very loud English).  So the sugar and cane syrup mixture...I guessed. And guessed badly.

I poured the mixture over the popcorn, buttered up my hands and got to work. And yelled some more. The Husband stepped in. Partly to help out. Mostly to rid the kitchen of my yelling and fury. By this point I was greasy from the butter and dripping with hot, wet, sticky cane syrup. Oh, I was hot. I guess you'd even say I "mangé le chien ragé."

The popcorn balls didn't set up well and now I have wet mounds of caramel corn tightly--very tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to make them look like balls. Remove the plastic wrap and they collapse into sad little sugary popcorn puddles. Tastes good, but still. Maybe next year. Or maybe I'll just get mother-in-law to start making them again.

Want to have the same fun in your kitchen? Here's the mise en place.

Looks good so far.  The sugar, cane syrup, water, vinegar, and salt have all been added.

I'm cooking away, dissolving the sugar and testing the temp to check for light crack (about 270).  Only my thermometer remains stuck at about 200 degrees.

I decide to guess.  Which was a bad thing to do.  I cut off the heat and added the butter and baking soda.

Poured the mixture over the popped popcorn.

And buttered up while the popcorn and syrup cool off enough to handle.  But not so much that it started to set.  Not that I had to worry about that.

Toss, toss, toss. I'm still naively optimistic here.  It'll still work.  It'll still work.  It'll still work...I think?

Fat chance.  This is what happens when you guess during candy making.  Close your ears.

The Husband steps in to stop the madness.

Don't let this picture fool you.  All you have to do is poke one to know that this is just sweet, wet globs of popcorn.

Popcorn Balls
from Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux by Marcelle Bienvenu

1/2 c sugar
2/3 c cane syrup
1/3 c water
1 T vinegar
1/3 tsp salt
1 T butter
1/8 tsp baking soda
3 quarts popped corn, no butter, lightly salted if desired

Combine the first 5 ingredients and stir until sugar dissolves.  Cook mixture until it reaches light crack stage (about 270 degrees F).  Remove from heat and ad butter and baking soda.  Stir well.  Pour over popcorn.  Butter your hands and form into balls.


  1. Love hearing about the cajun phrases :)
    I made popcorn balls today too! I found a recipe that didn't require a candy thermometer and ran with it! It definitely stuck together but I may have lost a few fillings...hehe.

  2. Michelle, I had to come over and check your recipe for popcorn balls after you told me you had posted one a few years ago. This was awesome. I can just see you sweatin' and cussin' and tearin' around....'cause that's exactly what I would have been doing. This. This is why I was scared to make thermometer popcorn balls! ;)

    Love, Joy


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