Cracker Jacks and baseball have more history together than Nathan’s hot dogs do with this all-American sport. Nathan’s began with a 1916 hot dog stand on Coney Island by Nathan Handwerker, a Polish immigrant. Yet when Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in 1908, he called out Cracker Jack.
The molasses, peanut, and popcorn snack’s firm association with baseball is “undoubtedly the result” of the song, says Tim Wiles, the research director for the Baseball Hall of Fame and coauthor of “Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” which is still sung during the seventh-inning stretch at most games.
Wiles tried to get inside Norworth’s head in his book, wondering: “Did Norworth work any back room deals with Cracker Jack so as to include them in the song? We don’t know. We do know that Cracker Jack rhymes with ‘never get back’ and for songwriters, it’s all about what rhymes.”
The earliest evidence of Cracker Jack being sold at a ballgame is in 1896, says Wiles. It was shown in an ad on a scorecard for a game hosted by the Atlantic City Base Ball Club against the Cuban Giants. Cracker Jack was first sold at a Major League ballpark in 1907. So it already had a presence at games, and Norworth cemented that by including it in his song.
The confection was first introduced by F. W. Rueckheim in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Three years later, Rueckheim’s brother Louis tweaked the recipe, finding a way to keep the molasses-coated popcorn morsels from sticking together. “He showed it to a salesman who exclaimed, ‘That’s crackerjack!’ and that’s where the name comes from,” says Chris Kuechenmeister, director of public relations for Frito-Lay, which now owns Cracker Jack. (At the time, the term crackerjack was used colloquially to mean “something that is exceptionally fine or splendid” or “a person who is exceptionally skillful or expert,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.) Prizes were added in 1912, and in 1914, the first baseball-themed prizes appeared: baseball cards in each box.
You know what else is nuts? Finding all of our nut recipes and nutty Chowhound discussions in one place. The same goes for our snack page. First, try some of our top Cracker Jack and baseball-themed snacks to munch on when you watch your next ballgame:
1. Cracky Snacks
Coat your popcorn and peanuts with molasses and caramel and then stuff it all into a nifty cone you make yourself. Just roll it up and tuck in a little toy, like the way they did 100 years ago. Get our Cracky Snacks recipe.
2. Honey Mustard Snack Mix
Transform pretzel sticks and bagel chips with a sprinkle of mustard powder and salt, made so much better with a drizzle of honey and butter. Get our Honey Mustard Snack Mix recipe.
3. Cocoa-Cayenne Popcorn Balls
There’s more to this than the title suggests, such as vanilla, orange zest and white vinegar. What?! Yep. You’ll need a candy thermometer too. Get our Cocoa-Cayenne Popcorn Balls recipe.
4. Tangy Ranch Cashews
There are a lot of common ingredients in this recipe, such as garlic powder and paprika. Then there are the citric acid and buttermilk powder. Look for those in the baking aisle of a well-stocked grocery store. Or go online. Get our Tangy Ranch Cashews recipe.
5. Caramel Corn
Make a gooey caramel sauce and the popcorn, then bake it and stir it every 15 minutes to get this treat. There’s a bit of salt in there too, balancing the sweetness. Get our Caramel Corn recipe.
— Head photo: Tasty-Trials.