Compared to mini-size chocolate bars, the popcorn ball is probably the last item in the Trick-or-Treat bag to be consumed.
Fresh popped popcorn coated with a sticky syrup and pressed into a ball shape has long been associated with Halloween. Before Trick-or-Treaters were commonly plied with prepackaged candies, it was common for treaters to pass out more wholesome treats such as plain apples, candied or caramel apples, paper bags of popcorn, or the oddly-shaped homemade popcorn ball.
The first known recipe for popcorn balls appeared in the 1861 printing of the Housekeeper’s Encyclopedia by Mrs. E.F. Haskell. Sans exact measurements, her recipe directs: Boil honey, maple or other sugar to the great thread (syrup will stretch between the fingers as a long thread); pop corn and stick the corn together in balls with the candy (syrup).
While the traditional popcorn ball recipe calls for boiling corn syrup, along with water, sugar, vinegar, salt, and vanilla, other recipes use melted marshmallows for a popcorn version of marshmallow treats. To either, food coloring may be added, or candies such as gumdrops or candy corn, while shaping into balls with buttered hands.
More detailed popcorn balls can be decorated with fun faces in directions from the 1963 edition of Better Homes & Gardens “Birthdays and Family Celebrations” cookbook. Using licorice ropes, jelly beans, and other small candies, a marshmallow glue holds the candies in place to create faces for party-appropriate treats. To make the “Stick-em” edible glue use six large marshmallows and two tablespoons of shortening, melt together, and use while warm. Dip candies into the Stick-em and place appropriately.
Jolly Time Popcorn brand offers a popcorn ball shaper to create uniform, compact shapes without having to deal with sticky syrup or buttered hands.
No time to make your own? Kathy Kaye Foods of Logan, Utah, offers traditional popcorn balls individually wrapped, sold separately or in large bags of one dozen. A one ounce ball contains 110 calories and is gluten-free.