Nothing says the holidays more than sweet treats passed down from generation to generation. Russian tea, jello salads, and fudge are favorite treats and beverages to enjoy when the weather gets cooler. But there's no treat more festive than popcorn balls. Invented during the turn of the 20th century, the popcorn ball recipe is a retro favorite that is best enjoyed with family and friends...and a strong jaw.
According to What's Cooking America, the popcorn ball was invented during the "Year of the Striped Weather" which came between the years of the "Big Rain" and the "Great Heat" where the weather was both rainy and hot. The weather combined, causing the corn to pop off the stalks while the rain washed the sugar cane downfield, where the two met and combined into balls. They say the great balls were 100 feet high and looked high and looked like giant tennis balls. However, on July 21, 1874, all the grasshoppers ate the crunchy treats.
Since then people have been making the easy recipe, especially in the 1950s when it was a popular treat to give away during Halloween along with freshly baked cookies and candy corn.
In a saucepan over medium heat combine sugar, corn syrup, cold water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, which is 235° if using a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add the room temperature unsalted butter, vanilla extract, and food coloring if using. Immediately pour over the popcorn in the large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon to coat. Stir in the sprinkles.
We love using Fancy Sprinkles because they are so colorful and fun!
When the popcorn mixture has cooled to the touch, shape into balls using your hands. You can prevent it from sticking by spraying your hands with cooking spray or dipping your hands in cool water. Let cool completely on wax paper.
Wrap the popcorn balls in plastic wrap or cellophane. You can also store in an airtight container