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Grandma's Halloween Popcorn Ball Recipe

I like collecting and trying out new recipes, whether they come to me via family or friends.

My grandma was famous in our neighborhood for her Halloween popcorn balls.

My grandma was famous in our neighborhood for her Halloween popcorn balls.

Spooky Gaunlet for a Prized Halloween Treat

As Halloween approached, everyone in my neighborhood would begin to ask each other which treats our families were planning to distribute. I would also be asked by everyone on the school bus if my grandmother would be handing out her traditional popcorn balls.

Plans would be made by the neighborhood children to get to her house early to ensure that a popcorn ball would be dropped into their goodie sack. Her house was a bit out of the way from the rest of the neighbors. She lived at the end of a small private street up on a hill. For a kid trying to get to as many houses as time would allow, she was a bit out of the way.

Grandma’s driveway was long and dark. On most nights it was just a driveway like any other, but on Halloween it became a spooky walk to the golden prize. You had to first walk between two pillars made from stones found around the yard, painted white and patched together with cement. Next was the stretch of dirt driveway that passed by the Charles River. The reeds would rustle in the gentle breeze, sending thoughts of goblins hiding just out of sight. Our steps would quicken, our eyes darting for the candlelight in front of the porch at the top of the hill. All that was left to get by was an old tree silhouetted in the moonlight that brought notions of the headless horseman coming around the bend. When our feet hit the first step, all frightening thoughts would leave our minds as the smell of the popcorn balls filled our senses.

Pumpkin grins flickered, greeting us on the top landing as we reached to open the porch screen door. The porch would be bathed in a yellowish-orange light due to the wall lantern. Reflections of the pumpkins would be distorted in the antique glass windows that surrounded the porch. As the tallest member of the group reached up for the door knocker, we would hold our breath, waiting to yell out, “trick or treat!”

Grandma would pull the door open wide so we could glance at the card table she had decorated with either spiders, mummies, a black cat, or cobwebs. In the center of the table was the bowl of hand-wrapped popcorn balls we had been dreaming about all week long.




  • 2/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter + some to coat hands
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Additional Tools and Materials

  • 3-quart pan to cook the syrup
  • 6-quart pan to cook the popcorn
  • Candy thermometer or small bowl of cold water
  • Wooden spoon
  • Wax paper bags
  • Wax paper


  1. Pop the corn in a 6-quart pan. Add the oil to cover the bottom. Place in popcorn kernels so the bottom is covered. Cover the pan with a well-fitted lid. Turn on the burner to medium-high setting. As the oil begins to heat, you will hear sizzling. Shake the pan using pot holders to hold the handles and lid. Just like making microwave popcorn, you will hear the exploded kernels begin to fill up the pan. When the sound begins to slow down, turn off the burner and remove pan from burner. Slowly take off the lid due to very hot steam. Slowly add popcorn into a large bowl and set aside. Try to keep all kernels in the bottom of the pan.
  2. In the 3-quart pan, add in sugar, light corn syrup, water, butter, and salt. Clip thermometer on the side of the pan, but make sure the tip of the thermometer is not on the bottom of the pan. This will give you a false temperature reading. Set burner on medium heat and begin to stir with a wooden spoon to mix all ingredients. Once mixed together turn heat to medium-high. Mixture will begin to boil and rise in the pan. You want to have syrup reach “hard ball” or 275 degrees on the thermometer. This can take up to 10 minutes. If you do not have a candy thermometer, drizzle a bit of the syrup into cold water. if it does not instantly become hard, it is not ready. Pour out water and syrup from dish and reset dish with cold water for the next test.
  3. As soon as mixture reaches hard ball remove pan from heat. Pull candy thermometer off of pan, and stir syrup as you begin to add in vanilla. Once vanilla is well mixed with syrup, begin to slowly pour over popcorn. Toss popcorn around in bowl with wooden spoon. Add more syrup. Repeat until syrup is gone from pan. If someone else is helping you make these, have them stir popcorn and syrup together in the large bowl as you slowly pour. Place empty syrup pan in sink and add hot water to pan so syrup does not harden to the pan. This will make cleanup much easier.
  4. Butter up your hands and reach in to the large bowl to begin forming balls the size of a baseball. The syrup will still be hot so take from the top of the bowl and work your way down. Gently toss the ball back and forth between your hands, but try not to compact the ball too tightly. Think of it as making a fluffy snowball. As you finish each ball, place it on a sheet of wax paper to continue to cool and set. If needed, quickly cool off your hands by placing them under cool, running water. Try not to rinse the butter off. The butter is acting as a non stick agent for your hands.
  5. After letting the popcorn balls cool for 15 minutes, place 1 ball in a wax paper bag and tie off with a piece of ribbon, twist tie, piece of string or whatever you might have on hand that will seal the bag off to air. If you can not find wax paper bags, use a piece of wax paper to wrap ball then insert it in a zip sandwich bag.Save one out to eat while wrapping the rest!

© 2013 Susan McLeish