Summer’s here along with vacations and sandy beaches, and my thoughts are drifting back to my childhood summer home: Brigantine, a little island off the Jersey Shore.
For the majority of our childhoods, my sister, Danny, and I spent our summers there. The day after classes ended, my mother would drive us to Pennsylvania, where our Great Aunt Rose was ready to whisk us away. Aunt Rose didn’t have kids of her own, and she kept a year-round apartment at the Shore just to house us girls for two blissful months. And while it now seems odd to me that my mother more or less gave us away for the summer, at the time we were only too thrilled to be in Aunt Rose’s doting care.
We always looked forward to getting back to familiar summer surroundings, friends and fun. Danny and I learned to swim and body surf in the merciless waves of the Atlantic, and learned how to deal with dangerous riptides in the process. When we weren’t at the beach, we spent our days picking blueberries, visiting fairs and carnivals and mastering such childhood feats as bike riding and hula-hooping.
Weekends, though, were the best, because we’d head to the next town, Atlantic City, to have dinner and “walk the boards.” These were the final years before the casinos opened in Atlantic City; I now know that the city was in decline, but I certainly never noticed it back then. We’d walk for what seemed like miles…shopping, playing arcade games and people watching. When we got tired, we’d ride the tram. On a few occasions, we even took in the famous “diving horse” show at the fabled Steel Pier, an attraction that—thank goodness—was eventually closed for humane reasons.
But what I remember most are the smells. A night on the Boardwalk was an olfactory delight…a heady blend of the ocean, sugar wafting from candy shops on every corner, hot roasted peanuts and fresh popcorn.
It’s been a long time since I’ve visited Atlantic City. I went a couple of times as an adult, but for the most part never wanted to tamper with my childhood memories. Now, as the city and my beloved Brigantine recover from the storm that battered them so badly last fall, I think it’s time to plan a trip, and show some support to a place that’s such a big part of who I am.
And while the Atlantic City of my childhood is long gone, I can still taste the memories of the Boardwalk sometimes…this delicious Cinnamon Popcorn Crunch is a delightful treat brings me back to those long magical walks on hot summer nights.
Cinnamon Popcorn Crunch
Yield: 4 1/2 quarts
• 3 quarts popped popcorn, unsalted
• 1 can (6 1/2 ounce) salted mixed nuts
• 1 pound light brown sugar
• 1 cup light corn or maple syrup
• 1/2 cup butter or margarine
• 1/2 cup water
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1. Mix popcorn and nuts in large buttered bowl.
2. Combine sugar, syrup, butter or margarine, water, salt and cinnamon in saucepan.
3. Heat slowly to the boiling point, stirring until sugar melts.
4. Cook to hard crack stage (290-295 degrees Fahrenheit).
5. Pour syrup in a fine stream over popcorn and nuts.
6. Stir until popcorn and nuts are evenly coated with syrup.
7. Spread out on large buttered surface or waxed paper.
8. Separate into bite-size portions with forks. Cool.