The History of Popcorn Balls and How to Make Them

The winter holidays always bring images of popcorn to mind. Whether you are stringing it up on the tree or eating it out of a festive popcorn tin at Grandma’s, it is definitely an American comfort food that is a warm treat during cold weather. One of the most popular forms of popcorn eaten during the holiday season is the popcorn ball– some people would even say that they are a popular holiday food because you can eat them or use them as a Christmas ornament. Although for most Americans popcorn balls are associated with winter, according to legend they got their start during the summer.

Where did the idea for popcorn balls come from?
If you believe Nebraskan myth, popcorn balls just happened naturally. On a hot and rainy summer day, legend has it that two Nebraska fields were experiencing different extremes in weather. In a field where sugar cane was growing, the crop was being treated to a deluge of warm rain. Next door, a corn field was in direct sunlight being scorched by the summer sun. The rain washed the sugar cane downhill toward the neighboring cornfield, where the heat was so blistering that the corn was popping off the stalks! The syrupy sugar cane washed over the exploding corn kernels, rolling it into balls as it went. But then, grasshoppers ate all of the balls, so the farmers were forced to try to recreate the phenomenon– making the snack we know now!

Obviously, this is myth is pretty far fetched. But no matter how these treats got started, Americans sure do love to eat them. Luckily, they are readily available for purchase but are also fairly easy to make at home.

How do you make popcorn balls?
There are many different ways to create the sticky treat. You can make them with simple syrup for a kettle corn-like popcorn ball or with caramel for an even stickier treat. Here’s the easiest and quickest way to whip up some popcorn balls on short notice.

1. Pop a bowl of popcorn in the microwave or on the stove.
2. Melt 26 caramel candies with 2 teaspoons of water in the microwave or on a double-boiler.
3. Pour the candy over your popcorn.
4. Mix gently and form into balls.
5. Place the balls on a cookie sheet or wax paper to cool and harden.

You can also decorate the treats with sprinkles, add food coloring for assorted colors of balls, or form them around popsicle sticks to provide a convenient way to eat the sticky suckers. You can also add nuts, chocolate or candy to the mix, for variety.

No matter how you choose to prepare your popcorn balls, have fun preparing them! They are an American holiday tradition that has been in families for generations and is sure to stick around.