TOPEKA, Ind. — This is the Year of Popcorn at the Indiana State Fair. That means the snack is going to be taking center stage at a lot of events at this year’s fair.
Fair officials decided one of the best, and perhaps one of the most iconic ways to showcase popcorn, was to create a popcorn ball — a really, really big popcorn ball.
However, not a lot of food companies have the expertise to create a 5,000-pound edible popcorn ball.
Topeka’s Snax in Pax is one that does.
Snax In Pax is a LaGrange County operation started nearly 20 years ago by Topeka native Will Huggins. Huggins, a Westview graduate, started the company in Kendallville, but six years ago, moved it to his hometown. The company makes caramel corn, caramel puffs and fudge for the snack food industry. Nearly 80 percent of its business is creating and selling products under other brand names of other companies.
Indiana is the second-largest popcorn producing state, just behind Nebraska. State fair officials first approached Weaver Popcorn, an Indiana popcorn company, about making the large popcorn ball. Weaver sells popcorn and popcorn products in more than 90 countries worldwide, and is responsible for nearly 30 percent of all popcorn sold in the world, said a Weaver spokesperson.
But officials at Weaver politely said no, saying the firm simply didn’t have the capacity to tackle the project right now. But they told the state fair they did know a firm they thought could tackle the task, and so Snax In Pax was called in.
“At first, I wasn’t so sure we had the time either,” Huggins told The News Sun Tuesday morning, watching his employees building the giant popcorn ball. “We’re just about to start our busy season, too.”
But once Huggins agreed, state fair officials shipped the Topeka firm a large popcorn ball form about eight feet across, created just for the job. Huggins and the crew at his Topeka snack food company got started Monday making the giant snack.
The title for the world’s largest popcorn ball currently resides in Sac City, Iowa, where in 2009 the town’s residents built a 5,000-pound popcorn ball.
Huggins and his staff, as well as officials with the state fair and representatives of Weaver Popcorn, are hoping their popcorn ball will tip the scales at more than 5,200 pounds. Once completed, the Topeka-made creation will be displayed behind a set of velvet ropes.
Huggins and his staff created a slightly different variation of a kettle corn recipe just for this job. That version is slightly stickier and heavier than normal kettle corn. Even though the popcorn ball is being “built” inside an environmentally controlled room, changes in humidity have already affected how well the popcorn mixture sticks to itself inside the giant popcorn ball mold, said Michael Vliet, one of the men involved in building the snack.
Snax In Pax employees started by cooking 90-pound batches of kettle corn in a large industrial pot. Later, they started making 120-pound batches. The mixtures are then dumped onto a food-grade elevator that carries the hot mixture up and pours it into the popcorn ball form. Employees use large, flat metal tamps to tightly pack down the sticky popcorn.
By Tuesday morning, Snax In Pax employees had poured more than 14 batches of kettle corn into the mold and still had not filled the mold to the halfway point.
Everything about the popcorn ball is edible, but Huggins says this future record holder is made for size, not taste.
“Oh, it will be edible, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” Huggins said.
The finished popcorn ball will be created in several stages.
The Topeka crew will build the popcorn ball to about three-quarters of the final size and shape, then pack it to be shipped to Indianapolis. When the popcorn ball arrives in Indianapolis, it will be set up inside one of the state fair exhibit buildings where workers make a few final batches of kettle corn and use those to hand-shape the giant snack into its final round shape and total weight.
Huggins says he still has no idea just how much popcorn and kettle corn mix it will take to create a 5,400-pound popcorn ball.
“I don’t know. We’ve never done it before,” he explained.
The State Fair opens Friday, Aug. 2, but the world’s largest popcorn ball won’t be officially unveiled until the next day. Huggins said he will be there.
“Believe it or not, this has been fun,” he said. “It’s not the sort of thing you normally get to do. But when they asked, how could I say no? I’m proud to have had a hand in creating the world’s biggest popcorn ball. It’s gonna be the biggest and the baddest.”
Information from: The News-Sun, http://www.kpcnews.com