Old-fashioned popcorn balls: 16 delicious classic recipes, plus expert popping tips

How to make Old-fashioned popcorn balls

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Old-fashioned popcorn balls: Merrie popcorn surprises (1963)

Look at all these festive holiday surprises you can create for your family with Karo’s delicious, easy-to-make popcorn mixture.

Karo Popcorn Mixture: Prepare 5 quarts popcorn. In 3-quart saucepan, mix 3/4 cup Karo Red Label Syrup, 1/4 cup margarine, 2 tbsp. water, 1 pound confectioners sugar and 1 cup cut-up marshmallows; stir over low heat until mixture just boils. Pour over popcorn in large pan, toss to coat.

Popcorn ball Santa and Christmas tree

Treasure Balls: Turn 1-qt. bowl upsidedown, wrap double thickness of foil around the outside. Dampen hands, press enough Karo popcorn mixture over foil on bowl to cover. Lift popcorn-covered foil off bowl. Repeat to make second half of ball. Let both ball halves harden.

Remove foil from each half, fill with toys, favors, small popcorn balls made from the remaining mixture rolled in colored sugar. Use decorative ribbon to tie halves together. Trim with sequins, fake jewels.

Snowman: press together 3 popcorn balls — small, medium, large — gumdrop makes hat, candies make eyes and nose.

Candle: press mixture into empty cream carton. Unmold. Candy cane makes wick. (Also see this recipe for a milk carton candle.)

Christmas Tree: press mixture into a lightly oiled funnel. Unmold. Dust with green sugar. Use large gumdrop to make base.

Christmas popcorn balls

Spreckels Sugar’s classic peanutty popcorn balls (1959)

Fun to make! Fun to eat! An all-time favorite with the youngsters that’s ready in no time at all.

Just combine popcorn with a candy coating made with sparkly-white Spreckels Granulated Sugar and the delicate flavor of Spreckels Light Brown Sugar. It’s as easy as this:

Heat 1 cup Spreckels Granulated Sugar. Stir until melted and golden. Carefully stir in 3/4 cup hot water and stir until sugar dissolves.

Add 1/2 cup Spreckels Light Brown Sugar. Cook to 238F or until mixture forms soft ball in cold water.

Pour sugar mixture over 2 quarts of popcorn mixed with 1 cup salted peanuts. Toss until well-coated and form into desired shapes. Make faces with Spreckels Powdered Sugar Frosting. Use paper hats for holders. No sticky fingers!

Spreckels Sugar's classic peanutty popcorn balls (1959)

How to pop popcorn the best way for old-fashioned popcorn balls & other treats (1974)

Rushville Republican (Rushville, Indiana) Dec 23, 1974

If you take it with a grain of salt, you’ll find that this is one of the most popular seasons of the entire year! The autumn harvests have reaped a fresh new crop of that favorite American food — popcorn.

And this is indeed good news for a nation that consumes over 400 million pounds of these fluffy corn kernels a year, most of it enjoyed during the cold, brisk months of winter.

As a nation of popcorn lovers, we even have our very own “Popcorn King.” He’s Orville Redenbacher, an Indiana Hoosier who is truly an expert in his field… the popcorn field, that is.

Redenbacher is a man who has devoted 35 years of his life to the pursuit of popcorn perfection: the development of a high-quality hybrid seed that would produce a bigger, better and more “poppable” popping corn.

An agronomist from Purdue University, where work on popcorn hybrids was pioneered, Redenbacher finally succeeded in achieving his lifelong goal. After countless experiments and cross-breedings of 40 generations of fancy popcorn plants, he discovered his special seed — a seed worthy of carrying the gourmet label.

ALSO SEE: Redenbacher’s ribbon o’fudge bars recipe, made with with popcorn (1992)

Expert tips How to pop popcorn the best way (1974)

Redenbacher selects only the most fertile farmlands in which to grow his special seed, and he personally supervises the crop from spring planting to fall harvest to guarantee top quality.

After the harvest, the shelled corn is stored and carefully dried until each kernel is at the exact proper moisture level for maximum “pop.” Like any scientist, Redenbacher has worked out a system that should help you produce perfectly popped popping corn every time.

Here are a few tips from the expert himself:

1. Take time to measure your ingredients. The ideal proportion for maximum “pop” is three parts corn to one part oil.

2. Make sure the heat of the oil in your pot or popper is correct . . . add one or two kernels when you add the measure of oil. When one kernel pops, the oil is properly heated and ready for popping.

3. Use an electric popper with ample heat (at least 500 watts) or a large skillet or pan with a bottom heavy enough to absorb and hold the heat.

4. Let the steam escape as the corn pops, either through a vent in the popper or through a slit in the skillet lid. Otherwise, the popcorn will toughen. — Add salt to the popcorn after the popping is completed, and use a finely-grained popcorn salt that adheres to each popcorn kernel.

5. Orville enjoys his popcorn best when it’s served “as is” — freshly popped and lightly salted. But when entertaining, he likes to use his imagination to create some special toppings appropriate for the season. Here’s one flavorful way of serving his favorite food that’s good year ’round.

MORE: Remember these retro air-pop popcorn makers?

Old-fashioned popcorn balls rate tops for entertaining (1950)

Old-fashioned popcorn balls please the fancy of children and grownups alike. They’re tops for casual evening entertaining or for the children’s daytime parties.

Old-fashioned popcorn balls are also popular snack-time fare because they’re so easy to make and serve. Just pour a syrup mixture over freshly popped corn, cool a little and shape into balls. Plan on about 20 to 24 balls from four quarts of popped popcorn.

For variation, try several different syrups so guests can choose their favorite flavors. Wrap the balls in colored cellophane for a festive effect.

Popcorn balls - Vintage recipes

Old-fashioned popcorn ball recipe (1950)

Yield: 15 popcorn balls


  • 1 cup Karo Syrup, Blue Label or Green Label
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 quarts unsalted popcorn


  1. Combine first four ingredients in saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture boils.
  2. Continue cooking, stirring almost constantly to hard ball stage (260 F) or until a small amount of mixture forms a hard ball when tested in very cold water.
  3. Remove from heat; quickly add butter and blend.
  4. Slowly pour over popcorn in large bowl, while mixing well.
  5. Form into balls, using as little pressure as possible. Butter hands, if desired.

Makes 15 balls about 2-1/2 inches in diameter.


For pastel popcorn balls: Follow above recipe, using Red Label Karo instead of Blue or Green Label, and substitute granulated sugar for brown. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla with butter. Tint syrup desired shade with vegetable food coloring.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 15 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 140Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 61mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 0gSugar: 21gProtein: 0g

Click Americana offers approximate nutrition information as a general reference only, and we make no warranties regarding its accuracy. Please make any necessary calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe, and consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you have dietary concerns.

Peanut brittle old-fashioned popcorn balls (1953)


1/2 stick (1/4 cup) margarine
1/2 pound peanut brittle
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
4 quarts popped corn


Place peanut brittle and water in a saucepan or small skillet. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Uncover and add corn syrup.

Cook and stir until all the brittle is dissolved. Cook over low heat to 265 degrees F, or until a small amount of the syrup dropped into cold water forms a hard ball. Pour over freshly popped corn. Cool a little. Shape into balls.

Old-fashioned popcorn balls recipe (1950)

Variations for more delicious old-fashioned popcorn balls

Recipes for molasses old-fashioned popcorn balls – Caramel sugared popcorn – Confetti popcorn – Popcorn squares

Molasses old-fashioned popcorn balls

Ingredients: 2/3 cup molasses, 1-1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 3 quarts unsalted popcorn.

Follow the same method as for regular popcorn balls.

Caramel sugared popcorn

Ingredients: two tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon light corn syrup, 1/3 cup evaporated milk, 1 cup sugar, 1 quart unsalted popcorn.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar slowly into a hot saucepan, stirring constantly, heat until melted and lightly brown. Add evaporated milk, corn syrup and 1 cup sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cook slowly to 238 degrees or until it forms soft balls in cold water. Stir occasionally.

Pour immediately over unsalted popcorn and stir until all kernels are covered. Let stand until cool.

The original Rice Krispies Treats recipe & their delicious history
Confetti popcorn

Ingredients: two cups sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup water, food coloring, 1 teaspoon flavoring, 2 quarts unsalted popcorn.

Combine sugar, butter and water. Place over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cook without stirring to 330 degrees; add coloring and flavoring. Make balls. You may repeat this with as many colors as you wish.

Popcorn squares recipe

A recipe for popcorn balls can be used to make tasty squares. After the kernels have been thoroughly covered with the boiled syrup mixture, pack in a greased dripping pan and cut in squares.

How to make old-fashioned popcorn balls
Old-fashioned popcorn balls: Photo by upyanose/Deposit Photos

Seven more sweet old-fashioned popcorn ball recipes (from 1956)

Paris News (Paris, Texas) November 2, 1956

Popcorn has been a favorite year ’round snack for Americans ever since the first Thanksgiving, when the son of an Indian chief brought the early colonists several bushels of “popped corn” in a deerskin bag.

Whether it’s for a July picnic or for Christmas decorations, it still takes only a moment to transform a few ounces of kernels and bubbling oil into a fluffy heap of hospitality and good eating!

Old-fashioned Popcorn Balls are always welcome in the Trick or Treat bags of marauding youngsters on Halloween, and busy housewives find that there are many new and different kinds of popcorn balls which lend variety to an old favorite.

Homemade candy and popcorn Christmas tree from 1966

Quick caramel old-fashioned popcorn balls

Melt 1/2 lb. package dairy-fresh caramels (28 caramels) with 2 tablespoons water in top of double boiler. Mix thoroughly with 2 quarts popped and salted corn.

Keep hands wet or lightly-greased when shaping balls, and be careful not to burn hands with hot syrup.

Light old-fashioned popcorn balls (basic recipe)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
3 tablespoons butter

Cook to 260 degrees F or soft crack stage. Pour over 2 quarts salted popcorn. Mix thoroughly and mold into balls.

42 popcorn recipes you have probably never tried

Variations of basic recipe (above)

Pastel popcorn balls
Delicately tint cooked syrup with food coloring. Add peppermint, lemon, maple, wintergreen or other flavoring.

Chocolate popcorn balls
Add 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate and one teaspoon vanilla or peppermint flavoring to cooked syrup.

Honey popcorn balls
Replace corn syrup with 1 cup honey. When syrup is cooked, add 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Cinnamon popcorn balls
Replace water with 1 cup strained orange juice. After syrup is cooked, add 4 tablespoons crushed red cinnamon candies and grated peel of 1 orange.

Fruit ‘n’ spice popcorn balls
Cook 1 cup mincemeat with syrup. Remove from heat and add 3/4 teaspoon vanilla.

Add coffee to old-fashioned popcorn balls (recipe from 1967)

Of all the many confections we like to make at home, old-fashioned Popcorn Balls are without a doubt one of the timeless favorites. Children and teenagers love to munch them. Even adults, young and old, find them irresistible.

The slight variation in this recipe for popcorn balls is the half-cup of coffee in the corn syrup glaze. You’ll be pleased at the marvelous difference this makes in flavor and color.

If you don’t have a thermometer to measure the temperature the syrup should be when finished, just remember to have a little patience with the cooking. It does take a while before the glaze reaches the right consistency. And do check it with the “water test.”

Coffee Old-Fashioned Popcorn Balls are not only fun to eat, they are also fun to make. They’re just the thing for an impromptu party when everyone can lend a hand. Perhaps you’ll put on the Flamenco records and whip up a Latin mood!

MORE: Karo Crazy Crunch caramelized popcorn (1964)

Coffee old-fashioned popcorn ball recipe

10 cups popped corn
1 can (6 3/4 oz) salted peanuts, chopped
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup strong coffee beverage
2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Combine popcorn and peanuts in a large bowl. Combine sugar, corn syrup, coffee and butter in saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves.

Cook over medium heat, without stirring, to 270 degrees, or until small amount of syrup dropped in cold water separates into threads which are hard but not brittle. Pour syrup evenly over popcorn mixture. Toss lightly. Shape into balls with lightly buttered hands. Makes 12 balls.

Note: Wear clean rubber gloves makes shaping the balls easier. Do not butter the gloves. Also: Do not attempt to double recipe. If more popcorn balls are needed, make up the recipe twice.

Make the prettiest Christmas decorations you’ll ever eat (1968)

Quick ‘n easy — with Jiffy Pop! All it takes is you — or a bunch of you — and the urge to make something personally pretty for the holidays.

Expecting a houseful for Christmas? New Years? in-between? Just hop into the kitchen and start popping.

One basic recipe makes them all. And the fast, simple variations are easy as easy — yet look totally different. Who knows? Before you’re through, you may be creating your own variations! Even if you don’t, your friends and family will still eat ’em up.

Jiffy Pop Popcorn: fun to make — fun to eat.

Popcorn balls and other shapes

Personally pretty old-fashioned popcorn ball decorations

Basic old-fashioned popcorn ball recipe:

1 package Jiffy Pop Popcorn
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pop corn according to package directions. Put into greased large kettle. Mix corn syrup and sugar together and heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Add butter and continue to heat and stir until butter has melted. Add vanilla.

Pour over corn and mix well. Heat gently for 3 to 5 minutes until popcorn mixture clings together when stirred. Shape as desired.

MORE: See how Jolly Time popcorn used to come in cans

Popcorn balls & other vintage Christmas decorations to make from food (1968)

1. Popcorn Tree Balls: Add 1 cup chopped gumdrops to popped corn. Shape into small balls.

2. Party Star: Add yellow food coloring to syrup mixture. Draw outline of star on foil. Press popcorn mixture into pattern. Cool. Decorate with gumdrops and red hots.

3. Holly-Pop Wreaths: Add green food coloring to syrup mixture. Shape into wreaths about 4″ in diameter. Decorate with slices of candied cherries and gumdrop pieces.

4. Candy Cookies: Add 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces to syrup mixture. Mix with popped corn. Spoon onto foil. Shape into a large rectangle. Cut into squares when cool. Decorate with candied cherries for poinsettias, and candy mint leaves for stems.

5. Popcorn Fruit Cake: Add 1 (5 oz.) jar mixed candied fruits to popped corn. Shape popcorn-syrup mixture into 2″ x 2-1/2″ cakes.

6. Candy Pop Canes: Add 1/4 cup cinnamon candies and a few drops of red food coloring to syrup mixture. Mix with popped corn. Shape into canes.

Choco-Scotch clusters: Chocolate & butterscotch coated Rice Krispies (1967)

Chocolate popcorn balls recipe (1966)

From The Herald-News (Passaic, New Jersey) October 27, 1966

When favorite hobgoblins come doorbell ringing on the eve of All Hallows, it’s fun to have a special reward handy. A treat for such pranksters is a chocolate popcorn ball. Any youngster or oldster will be delighted to call off tricks for this delectable treat.

Chocolate popcorn balls are easy to prepare. The rich chocolate coating of sugar, cocoa, corn syrup, evaporated milk and butter cooks in minutes to proper blending consistency. When mixed with the popped corn and shaped, the resulting texture is of delightful caramel-like chewiness.

The amount of syrup can be used to bind three quarts of popped corn. However, it a heavier chocolate coating is preferred, blend the syrup with a lesser amount of popped corn.

Chocolate popcorn balls are good snack time food for family eating the year around. Since this confection is easy to make and wholesome, it is a great idea for an activity at teen get-togethers.

So keep the corn popper handy and the syrup-makings at the ready for a batch of chocolate popcorn balls.

vintage chocolate popcorn balls recipes

Chocolate Popcorn Balls


3 quarts popped corn
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tbsp. butter
1/3 tsp. salt


Spread popped corn in a large shallow pan.

In a medium-size saucepan, mix sugar and cocoa, then stir in corn syrup, evaporated milk, butter and salt. Cook over low heat, stirring all the time. until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted. Increase heat to medium and continue cooking and stirring 8 minutes.

Pour over popped corn and mix lightly with two forks to coat well. Let stand 5 minutes to cool.

Coat palms of hands lightly with butter then shape coated popcorn into balls. Place on wax paper to cool. Makes 10 to 12 popcorn balls.

Note: For a heavier chocolate coating on popcorn balls, pour candy syrup over 2 quarts of popped corn. This amount will make about 8 medium-size popcorn balls.

Chocolate popcorn balls recipe (1910)

From the Arizona Republican (Arizona) December 19, 1910

These specially-prepared popcorn balls will prove a popular substitute for the candy that is usually indulged in too freely by the children at Christmas time.


1-1/2 cups of sugar
1/3 cup of glucose
2/3 cup of water
1/3 cup of molasses
3 tablespoonfuls of butter
3 squares of chocolate
1 teaspoonful of vanilla extract
4 quarts of popped corn, well-salted


Set the sugar, water and glucose over the fire, stir until the sugar is melted.

Then, after wiping down the sides of the saucepan to the edge of the mixture, let it boil three or four minutes, with a cover on.

Remove the cover and let cook without stirring until it will harden in water.

Add the molasses and butter and stir constantly until brittle in water.

Remove from the fire, and when it has ceased bubbling, add the chocolate, which has been melted, and the vanilla.

Stir until the chocolate is thoroughly mixed, and then pour onto the popcorn and roll into small balls. (The corn should be slightly warm.)

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