I love popcorn balls — who doesn’t? Truthfully I can’t remember the last time I ate one. But it’s a sure bet I know when my next one will be: right after I finish taking the photos for this post. Growing up, Mrs. Adams, my best friend’s mom and our Brownie Troup leader, made the best popcorn balls of all time. They were pink and I begged my mom to make the exact same ones but they never tasted the same. Now that I think back on it, my mom only kept margarine in the house and Mrs. Adams must have used butter.
As a kid I was treated to all sorts of decorated foods that took on the characteristics of either an animal or some sort of character. I was a finicky eater as a toddler, so to make eating more fun my mom did a little food styling with celery sticks, cling peaches, and raisins and made little stick figures. For my birthday, it was either the Barbie-style doll cake (2 half round layers of cake around the doll’s body to create her skirt) or the classic Baskin-Robbins clown cone (an ice cream cone turned upside down so that scoop is the face and the cone is the hat, decorated accordingly), which they still make today.
I had never encountered a decorated popcorn ball until recently. I was flipping through the pages of Better Homes & Gardens Birthdays and Family Celebrations, published in 1963. Featured in the Halloween section, there is a “delightful idea” for dad and the kids to have a little popcorn ball decorating party. They looked so freakin’ cute that I just had to try them out for myself.
I suggest you treat this like a craft project. Take a trip to a shop like the Sweet Factory (where you can purchase small amounts of candy) and be inspired by what they have in the bins. The cake-decorating aisle at most major craft stores is where you can find the nut cups that they are propped on. Or, if you have the time, search eBay or Etsy for vintage or decorated nut cups.
5 oz. bag of plain popped popcorn
¾ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup butter or margarine, if you must
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup mini marshmallows
Few drops of food coloring (optional)
Candies of your choice for decoration licorice, red gumdrops, jelly beans, etc.
Black construction paper
There are many recipes out there for popcorn balls that call for all sorts or variations in ingredients. You might even have an old family recipe (Mrs. Adams, are you out there?). Feel free to adjust ingredients to taste.
Step 1: Butter a large mixing bowl and put aside.
Step 2: Melt in saucepan over low heat.
Step 3: Stir until the mixture comes to a boil and remove from heat.
Step 4: Working quickly, pour a 5 oz. bag of plain popcorn into the buttered mixing bowl. (I used “lightly salted” which gave the popcorn balls a little bit of a “kettle korn” flavor. Don’t use a flavored or heavily salted style.) Pour the sweet mixture over the popcorn. Gently stir and coat each kernel. Let it cool about a minute until it is cool enough to handle. Butter your hands and shape into balls — whatever size you wish — I made mine about the size of a small grapefruit.
Step 5: Make the marshmallow glue.
This is what you’ll use to attach the candy decorations to the balls.
Melt a cup of mini marshmallows and 1 tablespoon of butter (or margarine) over low heat. Keep it warm as you are working.
Step 6: Decorate.
Using candies of your choice, start decorating. Prop the ball on a paper nut cup. Just dab the underside of the candy in the “glue” and attach it to the ball. You might need to supplement with a toothpick if necessary.
When I read the original recipe, I was skeptical as to if the “glue” would actually work. But I was amazed at how well it made the candies stick. I used the candies to create the face of the cat using thin black licorice for the ears and whiskers. I made the witch’s hat with black construction paper. Make a whole grouping of these for a great centerpiece! Happy Halloween!
About the Author:
Cathy Callahan is a crafter and window dresser who draws inspiration from vintage crafts. She blogs about 1960s and 1970s crafts at cathyofcalifornia.typepad.com.