Candy/ Dessert/ Recipes

Old Fashioned Popcorn Balls

Does anyone even make popcorn balls anymore? I kind of love them and not just because they remind me of Laura and Almanzo in These Happy Golden Years.

Okay, maybe it’s because of that.

But I also think it’s because I’m about 87 years old on the inside and nothing makes me happier than popping corn on the stove then mixing it with a molassesy sugar syrup and forming perfect little popcorn balls while listening to Christmas music and sipping my tea. Help.

Truthfully, I don’t know why more people don’t make these anymore. They’re like big balls of kettle corn and are perfectly lovely alongside a cup of tea OR a glass of champagne. Ever tried the kettle corn and champagne pairing? It’s pretty darn fabulous.

If you’re going to make these, PLEASE go the extra mile {errr 10 minutes} of popping your corn on the stove the old fashioned way. That way you know it’s not coated with all the weird things that may come in the jiffy pop bag. Random sidenote: Once, when I was 14 little, I popped corn on the stove and then ate it with milk for breakfast because I remembered reading how Ma used to make it that way for Laura, Mary and Carrie. It wasn’t very good. I don’t recommend that.

These popcorn balls were super fun to make and didn’t have that intense-all-you-can-taste-is-molasses flavor. I wanted a little of that, mainly to keep the old fashioned taste, but I found these tasted more like kettle corn than anything. Love that sweet and salty combo!

So next time you get the desire to bake cookies, why not try making popcorn balls instead? Dare to be different, my friends. Dare to be different.

Old Fashioned Popcorn Balls

Print this Recipe!

yields about 18-20 popcorn balls


1 cup corn for popping (to yield about 15 cups popcorn)

1 tsp oil

1 cup water

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 cups sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp molasses

1 1/2 tsp salt

special tools —

candy thermometer


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium/high heat. Once hot, add the popcorn kernels and place the lid on the pot. Increase the heat to high and shake the pot occasionally until all the corn has popped. Remove from heat.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup. Increase the heat to high and boil the sugar mixture until a candy thermometer reads 250 degrees (hard ball stage). This will take approximately 15-20 minutes. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just boil the sugar for 20 minutes and then proceed.

When the sugar mixture reaches the hard ball stage, remove from heat and stir in the molasses and vanilla extract. Pour this over the popcorn and toss well. Sprinkle salt over the popcorn and then toss well. Let sit until cool enough to handle.

Lay out a long piece of wax paper on your counter. With buttered hands, form the popcorn into balls and line up on the wax paper. They might appear to fall apart at first, but cup them with your hands until a tight ball has formed.

Repeat with remaining popcorn. The popcorn balls will keep up to a week in a sealed plastic container.


1 hour

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  • Kristen @ notsodomesticated
    December 17, 2012 at 3:34 am

    Wow, I can’t remember the last time I’ve even SEEN a popcorn ball, much less eaten one! Thanks for bringing back some childhood memories!! 🙂

  • Erin
    December 17, 2012 at 3:43 am

    OMG it’s been years since I’ve seen a popcorn ball. I LOVE that you chose this! I’m definitely going to be making this to add into my holidays cookies. So excited for these!


  • Abby @ The Frosted Vegan
    December 17, 2012 at 3:58 am

    I am also very guilty of trying “recipes” from Little House on the Prairie as well, hardtack anyone?!

  • Blog is the New Black
    December 17, 2012 at 4:09 am

    These remind me of being 8 years old- they always sold them at school!

  • polly
    December 17, 2012 at 4:16 am

    mmmm!! and yay for Ma and Pa. 🙂


  • Michelle @ Eat Move Balance
    December 17, 2012 at 4:38 am

    This is so neat! I haven’t seen popcorn balls in years–whatever happened to them?!? And what a fun activity to do with kids. It’s perfect for this time of year–great idea!

  • Trey
    December 17, 2012 at 5:09 am

    Oh man! This brings back incredible memories!! A lady in my church made me these every year for Christmas growing up. I haven’t even thought about them in years! This is awesome!

  • Molly @ RDexposed
    December 17, 2012 at 5:14 am

    I’ve had popcorn balls only once because I thought I was going to crack a tooth on them. I stick to admiring how cute the idea of them are.

  • Sam @ Better With Sprinkles
    December 17, 2012 at 5:18 am

    It has been years since I’ve seen a popcorn ball!

  • Jenny @ BAKE
    December 17, 2012 at 5:31 am

    I’ve never seen this before! they look incredible!

  • Amanda @ The Dormestic Goddess
    December 17, 2012 at 5:59 am

    My mom, sisters, and I make popcorn balls every year! We normally do a super simple marshmallow version, but these may be a delicious alternative!

  • Kathleen @ Fittitude Freedeom
    December 17, 2012 at 6:15 am

    I totally love popcorn balls and it’s been a long time since I had one. There are so yummy. I have used a different recipe long ago but think I will try yours. So nostalgic!

  • erin
    December 17, 2012 at 6:30 am

    i have a weakness for all things ingalls-related too haha. it’s basically the only reason i’ve ever made things in skillets. these look delicious!

  • Erica {Coffee & Quinoa}
    December 17, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Hooray for Laura and Almanzo 🙂 Also, I just recently discovered that you can make homemade microwave popcorn in a paper bag without all the weird additives! Life-changing.

  • Anita
    December 17, 2012 at 7:03 am

    I love popcorn balls, my mom made them every year when I was growing up. She made hers at Halloween, but Christmas would work too.

  • Averie @ Averie Cooks
    December 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Jenna these remind me of my childhood b/c my dad used to make popcorn balls. I dont know if his recipe used molasses or not, but boy, it looks like a great addition. Love these!

  • Karen
    December 17, 2012 at 7:19 am

    These look really yummy! Excited to try making these for my husband who loves popcorn anything.

  • Carla
    December 17, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

  • carolyn
    December 17, 2012 at 7:37 am

    thats my favorite Little House book–I’ve read it so many times! I love reading all the descriptions of the food they would make–they always had so much appreciation for the food they had. totally making these!

  • Andrea
    December 17, 2012 at 8:09 am

    I have always been obsessed with popcorn balls!! My dad always made them by melting butter and marshmallows in a huge pan, then stirring in the popcorn. When I was a kid I always got to pick what color the popcorn balls would be and we added a few drops of food coloring for fun. 🙂

  • Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks
    December 17, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Hehehe, fun post and a tasty looking recipe. I haven’t had popcorn balls in ages . . . I think one of our neighbors used to make them for Halloween, before everybody got paranoid about accepting homemade treats! Molasses is an intriguing addition — it’s found its way into some gingerbread cookies around here lately (with a teaspoon of ground black pepper added for extra kick. Try it if you please!) but never popcorn balls. Happy Holidays, Jenna, hope you’re doing well!

  • Jassy
    December 17, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Popcorn balls are my jam. My love for these are long established. Thank you for reminding me of this!

  • Corrie Anne
    December 17, 2012 at 10:19 am

    popcorn balls & champagne sound splendid!!! i love those. and now i want to read the entire laura ingalls wilder series again!

  • Caroline L.
    December 17, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I love how obsessed you are with Laura – I am too! I just want to live out my days like she did… maybe by starting with making several of these! So fun 🙂

  • a farmer in the dell
    December 17, 2012 at 11:36 am

    You rock. I know what I am making on this stormy day in Oregon! Gotta love an old-fashioned popcorn ball!

  • Tami@Nutmeg Notebook
    December 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    When I was a child our neighbor lady made popcorn balls for us. It’s been years since I’ve had one.

  • Teri
    December 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    When I was a child we had neighbors who would make popcorn balls for Halloween. They were the only people I was allowed to take homemade treats from. Loved those things! But molasses in a popcorn ball? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.

  • Kaitlin @ Taste of the City
    December 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Back in the day, my grandma used to make these on Halloween for trick-or-treaters. Obviously, that would never fly nowadays, but my dad always said they were the hit of the neighborhood.

  • Kaylee
    December 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I was obsessed with Little House as a girl (not the TV show – even at age 6 I was a purist and hated when they deviated from the books), and a nice older couple down the street from me made popcorn balls for trick-or-treaters every Halloween. I haven’t thought about them in years! Looks like I found something to take to my office Christmas party! Thanks so much for the post!

  • alyssa - life a la wife
    December 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Popcorn balls are such a throwback! It wouldn’t last a week in my house 🙂

  • Sharla
    December 17, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    My mom still makes popcorn balls and I LOVE them. The recipe is basically just like yours, but we don’t add molasses.

  • Julia {The Roasted Root}
    December 17, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    You’re such a crack up, I’ve never heard of popcorn balls before and they seem like they’d be just as fun as a caramel apple! Love the idea and love that making these will make me show my true inside age too, which is roughly between 87 and 89 😉

  • Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe
    December 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Cool idea friend! I like kettle corn A LOT, so I’m pretty sure that putting it all into a handy little ball that I can grab and eat is a very good idea.
    That sounded a bit dirty.

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  • Earl Booth
    December 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Everybody has asked, so what is the answer……what did happen to those great
    tasting Pop Corn Balls? Does anybody know? Thank-you

  • Natalie
    December 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I JUST realized why you called Adam ALamanzo all that time…:) am loving your book!!

  • Needful Things
    December 27, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing! This doesn’t seem *too* hard to make and my kids will be delighted!

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    February 2, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Mom made for us and all of the neighbor kids for halloween. Memories…la la. Lalalalala.

  • hey there
    February 25, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Ma didn’t serve them popcorn with milk, she either served them day old corn bread, or corn meal as a kind of batter off of the stove. It was a type of corn meal mush. With sugar, it’s great, and it’s really great warmed.

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