Dandy Little Addiction

I knew I had to make it from the moment I saw the photo. The recipe was promptly bookmarked.

Two years have passed since I first gawked at the homemade Cracker Jack from friends Cheryl & Adam Barnes—the powerhouse duo behind Picture-Perfect Meals. Cheryl is the voice and recipe developer that makes up half of the equation. To read her words makes you feel like a lifelong friend as she regales tales of marriage, food and travel. Adam expertly mans the camera. His keen eye and gut instinct captures images worthy of the glossy pages in high-end lifestyle magazines. Together they cook, style and click.

Cheryl referred to the candied popcorn as Crack(er) Jack, and I love the ‘crack’ connotation, especially in relation to its addictive nature. However I would not dare make such a characterization in my house. You see, my children are at that age where they still retain myna bird qualities—they repeat things they hear at inopportune times. Can you see the smirks at the crowded grocery store check stand when my child says, “Daddy loves crack!” or the raised eyebrow from the school principal when the same exclamation is blurted out on campus? I think not. I will admit, however, the snack is a dandy little addiction.

I adore Cracker Jack. That wonderful, colorful package depicting Sailor Jack, his dog Bingo and the caramel corn reels me back a good 4 decades. Back then the wrapper on the box was made of foil and it tore away cleanly as you punctured the box top flap to reveal the crunchy treasure. Whether or not I liked the toy surprise inside, I knew I’d find satisfaction in the cola-like flavor of the caramel corn and the salty-sweet interplay of the peanuts.

So here it is nearly two years to the day since that first glimpse and I’ve made my first batch. The result? Fabulous! Cheryl has nailed the Cracker Jack flavor to the point that I wondered if she was privy to the original  F.W. Rueckheim recipe introduced at Chicago’s first World Fair in 1893. As unlikely as that is, I’m good to simply accept she’s a kitchen magician.

And we are all better off with her magic.

Adaptation of a recipe by Cheryl & Adam Barnes of Picture-Perfect Meals


Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: Makes approximately 14 cups


The measure of molasses is what gives Cracker Jack that signature flavor. Easily distinguishable from other caramel corn recipes, the flavor doesn’t fully bloom until the vanilla and salt are added to the boiled sugar concoction. This Halloween, or anytime you have a craving, boil and toil a batch—the snack will have you howling with delight!


  • Unsalted butter, for the pan
  • 12 cups popped corn
  • 2 cups mixed deluxe nuts
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup light-colored corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Generously butter a large, rimmed baking sheet. Place the popcorn and nuts in a large bowl and toss to combine. Place the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and molasses in a heavy-bottom, medium saucepan. Whisk over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved and butter melts. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla, baking soda and salt (mixture will bubble up violently). Pour sugar mixture over the popcorn in a steady stream, stirring to coat evenly.
  • Spread popcorn mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 1-1/2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and break up any large clumps. Cool completely.


Mixed nuts as called for in the recipe would be superbly delicious, however I used Virginia peanuts and Marcona almonds in my batch—varieties which are kid friendly in my house. Of course you may use your favorite nuts, or none at all. Though I have full commercial-sized sheet pans, I found my large roasting pan, the one used for turkey, made it easier to stir and turn the caramel corn between intervals. This way, the corn and nuts remained in the pan without spilling out. Apply a light spritz of non-stick cooking spray to the surface of the spoon you use to stir the corn during baking; it helps to keep the kernels from sticking to the spoon. Don’t be too concerned about coating each kernel and nut with the caramel…the baking and stirring process helps to disperse the candy coating.



  1. When My dad was still alive we would go to the beach side where they made it and served it still warm oh my this brought back wonderful memories, my mouth is watering and I will make this soon in his memories thanks for giving me a smile today and your visit this was a wonderful surprise to see here.

  2. Brooks, you are too kind! We are so glad you enjoy the crack and not a little humbled by your enthusiasm fro Cheryl’s creation, if anyone knows about pleasing the sweet tooth it’s you! Just remember everything in moderation, right? Or not with this stuff…

    We have a little something for you if you’d like to send your mailing address to us at info@pictureperfectmeals.com

  3. didn’t know you could make it at home

  4. I adore Cheryl and Adam. Having had the opportunity to spend time with them in person, I can attest to the fact that they’re exactly as they come across on the written page. Caramel corn is one of those things that I don’t think about but if it’s plopped in front of me I can eat an entire batch in one sitting.

  5. I’m with Christiane…it is basically crack when it’s in my presence. One of the rare treats that I can’t stop eating….and you’ve made it perfectly!

  6. This sounds sooo good! I haven’t had cracker jack in forever, loved the stuff! I bet this home made is waaayyyy better too :)!

  7. Wow, does that every look good…so much better than anything from a box.

  8. I love that your memories of eating Cracker Jack is so clear. I just remember LOVING the peanuts! I am NOT going to wait two years to make this!

    BTW, the day is coming, much too quickly, that you will wish that your children would ONLY say, “Daddy loves crack!” 😉

    • Brooks Walker says

      Love it, you’re making me laugh, Betsy! I love the peanuts too, and I’m braced for what my children might say one day. 😉

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