This is a guest blog by Armenda Boyer, a sophomore at Purdue University. She is currently working toward a dual major in Agricultural Communication and Agricultural Economics. This past summer, she was an education intern for the Indiana State Fair Commission.
I spent last summer working as an education intern at the Indiana State Fair. Along with the everyday, agricultural education outreach, my internship provided me numerous unique opportunities. And I mean truly unique!
Each year the State Fair highlights an agricultural commodity produced in Indiana. If you visited the fairgrounds August 2-18 you probably recognized the 2013 theme: Year of Popcorn. This field crop was apparent at each turn of the fairgrounds—from the child-friendly popcorn maze to the red and white striped, popcorn container-inspired gift shop on Main Street. The focal point of the popcorn theme was certainly the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball—a 3-ton caramel corn behemoth.
And guess who was in charge of making that giant popcorn ball?
That’s right, the education department! Our team, along with Snax-n-Pax popcorn factory and various volunteers, built the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball. Sometimes I still wonder how it all came together and lasted while on display for 17 days! Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the Indiana State Fair and partners broke a world record:
Numerous hours of planning went into making the popcorn ball. When the other interns and I arrived in mid-May, the State Fair had already begun construction on the popcorn ball base. The structural support of the ball was made in-house by the fairground’s wood shop. This half-sphere plywood contraption was transported up north to Topeka, Ind. where our partners at Snax-n-Pax were ready to start building the ball.
This generous popcorn factory was the backbone of the popcorn ball construction. Workers at this plant popped the popcorn and covered it with the first coat of caramel. With their industrial cookers, Snax-n-Pax heated up sugar and covered the popcorn in a second layer of caramel. The workers then packed and pounded the caramel corn into the base until it was full. The half-sphere popcorn ball was then transported back to the Indiana State Fairgrounds where it was our turn to handle some popcorn.
Two other interns, our supervisor and I were now responsible for adding thousands of pounds of popcorn to this semi-completed popcorn ball. We were lucky to have fellow employees, other interns and community groups agree to assist in the construction, which was an intricate process!
We used industrial cookers to heat about 3 gallons of sugar to 290 degrees and then added 25 pounds of pre-popped caramel corn. We were making quadruple-coated caramel corn! When the popcorn was ready, we moved it to the existing ball and “tamped” it down so it was solidly packed. This “tamping” involved packing the caramel corn with a sort of cement-block-on-a-stick tool.
After the majority of the ball was complete, we handcrafted the outer layer of the ball. Making this popcorn ball into a perfectly round sphere was a lot harder than I expected! After about 2 weeks of work, the popcorn ball was complete!
I had a lot of fun making the popcorn ball, but I also learned a lot. Even though I am certain I can make a killer popcorn ball now, bakery skills are just a tiny part of what I learned. This entire process required an immense amount of perseverance—probably the most perseverance ever required from me. It was difficult to keep a smile on my face after spending hours upon hours making the ball fair-ready.
The finished product, all 6,510 pounds of it, was a huge accomplishment for our education team. The most rewarding part was seeing fairgoers admire the popcorn ball. I was, and still am, very proud of our accomplishment! I consider myself very lucky – how many students get to break a world record during their internship?!
So what happened to this giant ball of popcorn and sugar after the Indiana State Fair? Check out my next blog post to find out!