Elizabeth’s Old-Fashioned Popcorn Balls

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  • 4 quarts popped popcorn (unbuttered and plain)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Place sugar, molasses, water, butter, and salt in a saucepan. Cook, stirring continually, until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking without stirring until the mixture reaches 270 degrees or until a small drop of the mixture forms a hard ball when added to cold water in a water glass. This process may take several different trials before you reach the hard ball stage. (Be sure to empty the glass of water after each test and fill it with fresh cold water before testing the mixture again.) Add the vanilla.
  2. Divide the popcorn into two bowls. Working as quickly as possible, pour the syrup evenly over the popcorn in both bowls, mixing with a large spoon as you pour so that as much popcorn as possible is covered.
  3. Being careful not to burn yourself on the hot syrup, and after greasing your hands generously with butter, quickly shape handfuls of popcorn into about 12 medium-sized balls.
  4. The popcorn balls should be cooled and then wrapped in waxed paper. To give them a festive look during a holiday like Christmas, wrap the waxed paper-covered balls in colored tissue paper and tie with ribbon. They make a colorful serving at each place setting on the table or tucked into a Christmas stocking or even heaped into a large bowl or basket.

The shelf life of popcorn balls wrapped in waxed paper should be approximately two weeks. If you want to freeze them, be sure that they are securely wrapped, first in waxed paper and then in a Ziploc bag or other airtight container. When defrosting, upwrap the ball completely to avoid making the popcorn soggy as it thaws.

While popcorn itself might not be tasty if frozen, the high heat to which the molasses is subjected seems to act as a preservative with these popcorn balls. In our test, a frozen popcorn ball that was defrosted after two months was as fresh and as enjoyable as when it was made.