Popcorn Balls

Hope y’all had a Happy Halloween last Tuesday!  I spent the afternoon of Hallow’s Eve learning to make my Grandma Jones’s famous popcorn balls.  When I was younger, she used to make them by the dozens, especially around Halloween.  Now in her eighties, she doesn’t make them nearly as often, so I asked her to teach me the recipe so I could start making them from time to time – she graciously agreed.  

First step was to pop our corn. We used microwave popcorn this time for convenience, but grandma says of course she used to pop it on the stove-top with oil and kernels before microwaves existed.  🙂  We popped three bags of microwave corn per double batch of this recipe.

My cousin, Kate, got in on the learning too. Here, she’s picking thru all of the popped corn to remove the un-popped, burnt, or otherwise defective kernels.

Then, in a medium saucepan, we added the following:

2 Tablespoons of vinegar (in this case we used apple cider, but white vinegar would be okay too)

 6 Tablespoons of sorghum…

(Note: on our first batch, the sorghum we used created a syrup that was too bitter and we had to throw it out. The next batch, we used a different brand of sorghum and they came out great.  I’m not sure how to tell the differences in sorghums before purchasing, but if you can get one that’s not too bitter it will be best!)

Note: this was the (too) bitter sorghum

2 Tablespoons butter, 1 cup white sugar, 2/3 cup water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Then we put in on the stove to simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Without using a thermometer, Grandma gauged the syrup doneness by watching for “threads”.  (After some Googling, I see that threading temperature is between 223-234 deg F.) 

Once the syrups reached the desired threading consistency, we stirred in 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.  This reacted with the vinegar in the syrup and created lots of tiny bubbles – similar to what you’d see when making peanut brittle.

We quickly drizzled the scolding hot syrup over our popped corn.

And Grandma gave it a quick toss with a spoon.

Then, with buttered hands, we quickly formed the balls.  Careful not to grab a blob of hot syrup – work gingerly. 

Kate & Grandma forming balls

Note, we didn’t drizzle the entire amount of syrup onto our popcorn at once, but rather worked in 3 to 4 small batches. We’d periodically heat the syrup again for a few minutes on the stove to keep it fluid between batches.  This allowed us to work the popcorn into balls without all of the syrup hardening too fast on unformed popcorn. 

When we applied the syrup, we dolloped it over the corn liberally – we were generous with the syrup to popcorn ratio per ball.

They’re sweet, salty, fun to eat, and fun to give!

Our yummy finished balls

To keep the balls fresh, and ready for giving, Grandma wrapped each cooled popcorn ball individually in a piece of plastic wrap.  They should stay fresh at room temperature for two or three days this way.

Grandma’s recipe card (we doubled this recipe and it made ~12 softball size popcorn balls)

By the way, I plan to do more baking and learning this winter with Grandma because there are a lot of things she makes that I can’t seem to replicate on my own – in particular many recipes of Granny (my great grandma).  I am planning to share the recipes and tips here on my website, especially for family to have, but also for anybody who enjoys cooking!

Notice, I’ve added a “Recipes” tab at the top of the homepage, which is where I’ll file these.


2 thoughts on “Popcorn Balls

  1. Jack Miller

    Great piece, Miranda! It is important to keep those family recipes flowing forward! We don’t see much in the way of sorghum up here. I see your picture show’s Miller’s, and your comment was that the first you had tried was bitter and the second was better. If I can’t get sorghum, would molasses work?

    Thanks for sharing on Facebook!


    1. Miranda Hust Post author

      Hey Jack! Agreed – I have these recipes but actually making them with Grandma is teaching me details I’d otherwise never know. 🙂 I’d say molasses would probably be a good substitute if you can’t find sorghum up north. Though, if you can find some that isn’t too dark and bitter it would be best. Doing some reading, and I see that “blackstrap” is the darkest and most bittersweet form of molasses. “Second” molasses is a little sweeter than the “blackstrap”.


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