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Having a ball with Halloween treats

In a tiny, old-fashioned village in Vermont called Franklin, not far from the Canadian border, my brother-in-law and sister are raising their two little girls. Life there is a far cry from what we see and do here in Pinellas County, where more people live than in the state of Vermont.

Up there, Franklin is the only town center for miles, so on Halloween night, all roads (many of them dirt) running past outlying, often isolated, farms lead to Franklin. Starting before dusk, children begin arriving in town to admire the decorations and make the trick-or-treating rounds.

Back here in our Safety Harbor neighborhood of 80 or so homes, I may get 55 or 60 children trick-or-treating. But there, in my sister's town of 50 or so homes, they can get as many as 400 or 425 children ringing door bells and shouting "Trick or Treat!"

The first year she was there, Susanne (who is a great cook) thought she was prepared for the holiday after she and the girls spent the three days before Halloween making popcorn balls _ 250 of them.

When those ran out by dinnertime, Susanne sent Greg on an emergency run to the supermarket _ 20 minutes away _ as she made do with whatever she could find in her pantry.

The next year she made 425 popcorn balls, and many of the children who rang her bell remembered that she was the "lady with the popcorn balls" _ high words of praise.

Unfortunately, because of safety concerns, we can't distribute popcorn balls to trick-or-treaters on our doorsteps like my sister can, but we can make them for our friends and our own trick-or-treaters.

Here is Susanne's recipe for the best popcorn balls Franklin, Vt., ever tasted:

Trick-Or-Treat Popcorn Balls

Combine 1 stick of butter with 1 pound of brown sugar and 1 cup of Karo syrup. Stir in 1 cup sweetened condensed milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Stir constantly and consistently until it boils. Simmer until it reaches the soft-ball stage (when a few drops of the hot liquid, dribbled into a glass of cold water, will form a soft ball).

Pour over 4 gallons of popped popcorn. Toss. Grease your hands with margarine, then form the popcorn mixture into balls. Wrap them in waxed paper.