Tuesday, April 5, 2022

D is for Daisy's Popcorn Balls

#AtoZChallenge 2022 Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter

My "D" post about donuts fell through on Sunday morning while in the research phase, when the first hole-in-the-wall donut shop was out of donuts by 7:45 in the morning (after opening at 7:00 am) and the second one was closed up and looked like it had been for years (damn you, Google maps, for letting me down!), and we settled for ones from Lamar's Donuts, a Kansas City chain that makes fine donuts, but not ones worthy of an entire blog post. (And if you're wondering why I didn't MAKE donuts, the answer is I already did that in the 2015 A to Z Challenge, and homemade donuts, while delicious, are VERY, VERY LABOR INTENSIVE.)

I needed a Plan B and needed it fast, so I started leafing through recipe books but not finding anything "D" worthy. Then I picked up an old 3-ring binder that I once used to collect recipes I had cut out of magazines or newspapers and found it:

My uncle sent this to me probably 15 years ago after I found out he was in possession of my Great Aunt Daisy's popcorn ball recipe, and I stuck it in this book but never tried to make it. The recipe is easily 100 years old.

So, my grandparents moved from town (population 400) to the family farm way out in the country when my uncle was going into high school. Uncle Bradley was going to live in town with my two great aunts (my grandfather's unmarried younger sisters) so he could attend high school. My mom threw such a fit that she had to leave HER friends and live out in the middle of nowhere and attend a one room school that my grandparents let her live with my great aunts as well. My great aunt Edith was a fabulous country cook. Being the thoroughly spoiled "baby" of the family, my great aunt Daisy was the one who had time to play games and cook the only things she knew how to make: homemade candy.

We have a few of Daisy's recipes, but not many, because she didn't use a recipe for most treats she made. And if you DID get her to write down ingredients and at least make a stab at amounts of each, you got directions like "cook until it looks done" which is completely useless information.

Daisy made these popcorn balls all the time, and the family loved them. Except me. I never liked them. They were made with sorghum molasses, which has a very strong taste, but I thought I'd give it a shot for the sake of the A to Z Challenge.

As you can see, the recipe is a little vague. A "pan" of popcorn? A "lump" of butter? I did my best.

This was supposed to be the photo
of the assembled ingredients.....

Molasses, sugar, vinegar, and not
enough salt coming to a boil

After I threw in the lump of butter and
the baking soda and also after I saw
that the lump of butter was supposed to have
gone in with the molasses and stuff

Poured over the "pan" of popcorn and
mixed as well as I could

Completed popcorn balls. I seem
to remember Daisy's being lighter in
color (I probably didn't beat the syrup nearly
enough since I didn't actually beat it at all,
although I did give it a vigorous stir) and
had better coverage. Nora Pearl is 
indifferent to the whole thing.

The biggest befuddlement was in how long to cook the syrup. Her directions say to cook until it spins threads. I thought this meant when you lifted the spoon and let the syrup drip off that little threads of candy would spin from the trickle of syrup, but it never did that. I tried drizzling a small amount in a glass of ice water to see if threads spun, but they did not. I put the candy thermometer in the mixture and made sure it reached thread stage on the thermometer, which it did, but I still don't think that's what she meant. I also added more salt to the syrup when I tasted some of the cooled syrup in the ice water, but it still wasn't enough salt to cut all the sharpness of the molasses. Better, but not enough.

My husband, Ground Zero for taste testing, ate one of the three popcorn balls I took to him, then handed the rest back to me.

I tried one and other than thinking it desperately needed more salt, I thought it didn't suck as much as I remembered from my childhood. One was enough, but I didn't hate it.

Varying reviews from my taste testers at school, from "hard on dental work but yummy in tummy" to "good but REALLY sweet" to "the taste just STAYS there and doesn't go away" (I get you, sister, I get you).

Not going into the rotation for sweet snacks, but at least my curiosity has been satisfied, probably forever.


  1. Try light Karo syrup instead of molasses and brown sugar instead of white, it gives a lighter flavor. Better yet, go buy some!

    1. I make THE BEST caramel popcorn you will ever eat. Uses light Karo and brown sugar. This is definitely not my cup of tea, but it's nostalgic to try to recreate it.

  2. Not a recipe I'd try. Just popcorn and lots of butter for me.

    1. I wouldn't have tried it if it weren't a family thing! I do make incredible caramel popcorn, but I'm also a huge fan of buttered popcorn as well!

  3. I don't think we ever made popcorn balls growing up so it was interesting to read about how you were trying to follow a recipe from your great aunt. It sure came to the rescue for your Plan B for the letter D :)


    1. My great aunt used to make these at Halloween and give them to trick or treaters (back in the old days when you knew all the kids and could give them homemade treats). They weren't as messy to form as I thought they would be!

  4. That looks like a lot of work! I always worry when sugar is involved in a recipe if it doesn't tell me what to let the sugar thermometer come to 😆. I have never had a popcorn ball that I remember.
    Best wishes,
    Tasha's Thinkings: YouTube - What They Don't Tell You (and free fiction)

    1. Popcorn balls are harder to eat than, say, regular caramel popcorn. And messier. I made them to be about tennis ball sized, but my memory tells me Daisy's popcorn balls were almost softball sized. Of course, I was a little kid, so who knows?

  5. Those "cook until" done recipes can be so frustrating! My sister accuses me of doing the same thing to her, though. It looks like you made a valiant effort with the popcorn balls. I'm not a molasses fan, but my husband would love these.

    1. I tried! No one in the family can recreate Daisy's fudge recipe, which is a "cook til it looks done" recipe. We either get spoon fudge or rock fudge! I wish I could have sent some to your husband! Fortunately, my dad took care of all the leftovers :)

  6. I've always loved popcorn balls. Still do, but I avoid them because I'm afraid I'll mess up my aging teeth.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. They are definitely brutal on the dental work! My dad soldiered through them without pulling his dentures out, though :D

  7. A real mix of interesting feedback on this one. I love caramel candy but it definitely is "hard on dental work". I have some similar old recipes where things are quite vague making it challenging to actual make them. Great job giving it a go! Weekends In Maine

    1. My dad used to be addicted to Slo-Poke suckers. Remember those? After yet another visit to the dentist from eating one, the dentist offered to buy my dad a case of them just to keep business going. My dad decided it was time to quit eating them then!

  8. I'm told my grandmother made popcorn balls faithfully every Xmas... as sweets back then were far and few. I tried making them once, and didn't realize how hot the mixture would be in forming the balls. Think it was the last time I took them on.

    1. You have to work fast when making popcorn balls or risk losing your fingerprints!