Easy Old-Fashioned Popcorn Balls

By: The Local Palate

Crystal Wilkinson’s shares these old-fashioned popcorn balls in her cookbook, Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts (Clarkson Potter, 2024). “These have a taste that reminds me of my childhood. My grandmother would make these sometimes at Christmas. Now I make these for the children in our family.”

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Makes 10 to 12 popcorn balls

  • 1 cup pecan pieces
  • 10 cups freshly popped, unsalted popcorn
  • 1 cup sorghum molasses (syrup)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • Special equipment: Candy thermometer; food-safe gloves (optional)
  1. Toast pecan pieces in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat for about 4 minutes, stirring once or twice, until fragrant and lightly browned.
  2. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Grease a very large, heatproof mixing bowl or stockpot and flexible spatula with cooking oil spray. Add popcorn and pecans.
  3. In a deep saucepan, combine sorghum, sugar, butter, and vinegar over medium-high heat. Once butter has melted and bubbles form on the surface, reduce heat to medium and cook, without stirring, until caramel reaches 250 degrees. (This is hard-ball stage; a bit dropped into cold water will form a hard ball.)
  4. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes—the bubbles will subside—then pour caramel over popcorn and pecans. Use greased spatula to fold it in so mixture is evenly coated.
  5. While mixture is still warm, grease your hands with butter or cooking oil spray, or put on food-safe gloves, and divide coated mixture into 10 to 12 equal-size portions. Roll each portion into a ball, placing them on baking sheet as you work. They will firm up as they cool. Cool completely before serving or storing in decorative tins or airtight plastic containers.


  • Recipes reprinted and adapted with permission from
    Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts: Stories and Recipes from Five Generations of Black Country Cooks by Crystal Wilkinson copyright © 2024. Photographs by Kelly Marshall copyright © 2024. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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