Country Cousin Popcorn Balls

Makes 18 balls. Recipe is from The Popcorn Board.

2 cups sugar

2?3 cup apple juice or water

2?3 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup butter

11/2 tsps. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

4 quarts warm popped popcorn

1 cup honey-roasted, unsalted or salted peanuts

1 (8-oz.) pkg. chopped dates

1. Combine sugar, juice or water, syrup, butter and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove the sugar from the sides of the pan with a wet brush. Cook, without stirring, until mixture reaches 270 degrees — the soft-crack stage on a candy thermometer.

2. Add vanilla.

3. Combine popped popcorn, peanuts and dates. Pour the syrup over the popcorn and mix well. Wet or butter hands and shape into 3-inch balls.