When I think of Halloween, my mind always turns to popcorn balls, those salty-sweet homespun sweets of my childhood. Our neighbor, Mrs. Snider, was a cheerful old lady with a little white bun on the back of her neck and sensible lace-up shoes that had been fashionable during World War II, and I never saw her without a cotton “farmer’s wife” apron like the ones my grandmother wore. When we showed up on her doorstep on Halloween, she would invite us into her kitchen and give each of us a brown paper bag filled with two enormous popcorn balls and a couple of pieces of her homemade peanut butter taffy. No matter what other booty we acquired on our trip up and down Chester Road, the popcorn balls were the first thing we ate when we got home.
We made such a fuss about them that my mother got the recipe from Mrs. Snider and we started making them ourselves. It wouldn’t have been Christmas at our house without popcorn balls, and I used to send batches to the girls in care packages when they were away at school, where they were wildly popular in the dorm. These are completely different from any commercial popcorn balls I’ve had, and though a little messy to assemble, (you have to spray your hands with kitchen spray to keep the popcorn from sticking to your hands) they are quick to make – and I promise they will disappear as soon as anyone gets a taste of them. So thank you, Mrs. Snider for all those popcorn balls and good memories!
- 2 gallons of popped corn (requires a large, lidded pot, one cup of unpopped popcorn and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil)
- 1 ten-ounce bag of mini marshmallows
- 8 tablespoons butter, plus a little extra for rubbing on your hands to assemble the popcorn balls
- salt to taste
- Melt butter and marshmallows together in a large saucepan, over very low heat. Stir regularly.
- Pop the popcorn in a large lidded pot, pouring the vegetable oil into the pot and heating to medium-high heat.
- Pour the unpopped popcorn into the pot and put the lid on. Shake the pot when you begin to hear the popcorn popping, and lift it slightly off the heat and continue to shake as popping increases.
- When you hear the popping slowing down, you should also hear the popped popcorn filling up the pot. Remove from heat immediately, and spread warm popcorn onto two baking sheets.
- Remove any unpopped seeds or burned popcorn. Salt to taste. Microwave popcorn does not work for this recipe.
- When marshmallow mixture is completely melted, pour mixture over popcorn, dividing it as evenly as possible between the two sheets.
- Allow marshmallow mixture to cool until it can be touched without burning yourself, then rub hands with butter and plunge hands into the popcorn, mixing the marshmallow into the popcorn as thoroughly as possible.
- Take a double handful of the popcorn/marshmallow mixture and squeeze tightly into the shape of a ball. Some of the popcorn will come away on your hand, but keep squeezing until the popcorn mixture holds together well enough for you to put it down.
- Do the same with the remaining popcorn mixture, rubbing more butter on your hands as needed, to keep the popcorn from sticking to your hands.
- Wash hands thoroughly, then go back to the first popcorn ball and squeeze it together tightly again. It will become more compact this time and will hold together more effectively. Give all of the popcorn balls a second squeeze to make sure they hold together well.
- Store in airtight container. Keeps several days.