Fossils indicate that corn may have been popped in Peru as long ago as 4,700 BC. The corn used to make popcorn has been a valuable crop throughout North and Central America since then; in the early 1900s, Midwestern farmers called it “prairie gold.” But popcorn? It evolved over the millenniums and by the 1920s and 1930s, became a favorite snack in movie theaters. Today, Mill and Tom Dixon have put their own spin on that snack. They are the local proprietors of The Caramel Kettle in Taneytown where they make artistically crafted popcorn.
At first, the Dixons had a variety of gift shops. One was at a Walmart in Glen Burnie, another in Rockville Square in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and one was at the TownMall of Westminster. They also had seasonal locations in places such as Golden Ring Mall. The shops sold souvenirs, collectibles, Southwest and Maryland items, Ravens collectibles, and Orioles and other sports items.
Mill Dixon got started in business by participating in craft shows and selling the fabric-covered baskets she made. Mill Dixon was joined by two friends in the business.
In 1995, for Mother’s Day, the group went into a mall to sell their crafts for a week. At that time, Dixon was renting a kiosk at Cranberry Mall. Instead of a kiosk, the mall rented the women an inline store for the same price. From there they went to Glen Burnie.
In 2008, the economy was in recession and it was scary to renew the leases for another five years for the gift shops Mill and Tom had opened. As their leases were ending, they decided to close their stores and put everything in storage to see what would happen with the economy. She and her husband got jobs with the Red Cross.
“Tom came home one day and said he missed having [his] own business,” said Mill. “I would like to do something with food like popcorn and cotton candy.” Tom told her.
“While we still had jobs, we got some equipment and experimented,” Mill said.
“It just happened. We wanted to get into something with food. There are not many popcorn shops around. It is a way of being creative. I come to the store to see what I can do next,” Tom said.
The first flavors were kettle corn, strawberry and blue raspberry. Then Tom used different seasonings. “It takes a while to work the flavor out” Mill said. “Tom has a flavor in mind, but it often takes months or even a year to get the processes right to make different flavors.” When they make Tuti Fruiti they must combine five different batches of popcorn.
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Some of the ingredients are cooked with the popcorn in the kettle. Other flavors are applied to the popcorn after it is popped. They also have a line of air-popped popcorn. The air-popped machine looks like a little robot. They take the popcorn out and add the flavorings.
“The Caramel Kettle has 36 different flavors of popcorn. We love going to the events and meeting people and the vendors. We like to travel, especially to the big fairs. In February, we go to the Florida State Fair in Tampa,” Mill said.
They also participate in many farmers markets. When all the fairs were canceled due to COVID, the Dixons sold their crafted popcorn at six farmers markets. Now they are trying to juggle everything. They do more than 200 events a year. Fifty-two weeks a year they are vending somewhere.
The Dixons make popcorn packed with custom labels for different events including weddings, a high school senior’s last day, Georges of York in Taneytown, birthdays and parties. They also do corporate holiday popcorn and ship it.
The Dixons now have added an additional line of caramel apples, including some with nuts and chocolate. They are delivered in a window box package with a custom label. They sell the apples at the Maryland State Fair where they sell several thousand apples and their line of chocolate covered marshmallows each year.
The Caramel Kettle website is caramelkettle.com. Customers can order directly from the site. The Dixons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lyndi McNulty is the owner of Gizmo’s Art in Westminster. Her column, An Eye for Art, appears regularly in Life & Times.