Popcorn Balls: Amazing Legendary Confectioneries
The legend behind the invention of the popcorn ball is a pretty tall tale.
In fact, it's right up there with Paul Bunyan's giant blue ox and Pecos Bill
somehow having the ability to lasso a tornado. But, those stories are as
American as the popcorn ball itself, so it only figures the origin of the
popcorn ball should be as extraordinary.
References to popcorn balls appeared in writings as far back as the 1840's.
However, the first published recipe is attributed to New York cookbook
author E. F. Haskell in her "Housekeeper's Encyclopedia", first distributed
in 1861. And, the recipe hasn't changed much since the popcorn ball's wild
burst of popularity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
But, these facts are not nearly as intriguing as the fantastical tale of the
first popcorn balls. Hold on to your hat.
The "Cornhusker State" of Nebraska is obviously known for its production of
quality corn. Another, less familiar, cash crop in Nebraska is Sorghum, a
type of grass that is considered one of the most important cereal crops
grown in the world. Often, sorghum is processed with water, becoming
viscous, and producing sorghum molasses or sorghum syrup. Here is where the
Nebraska is known for extreme seasonal weather. The genesis of the popcorn
ball depended on this. The tale says that between one year of very wet
weather and one year of very hot weather, there was a year of both
simultaneously. This was called "The Year of the Striped Weather". Locals
stated during this year, whole pigs roasted to perfection in the sun, or were drowned
in their pens by the rain. One August day, it rained so hard on a
particular farm that the sorghum syrup leaked right from the grasses, and
drained into a field that contained corn. The weather then became so hot
that every kernel of corn in the field dried out and popped from the intense
heat. To add to the weather extremes, a powerful tornado came down from the
sky and battered the farm relentlessly. At the end of the storm, perfectly
formed popcorn balls over a hundred feet high stood in the fields! Sadly,
however, the proof of these amazing popcorn balls could never be documented,
as the entirety of the enormous popcorn balls were devoured the very next day by a
plague of ravenous grasshoppers.
So, there you have it. The incredible, amazing and wholly unbelievable
origin of the popcorn ball. Now, if you don't have the ability to create
your own extreme weather to make popcorn, a quality recipe for normal-sized
popcorn balls is below. Enjoy!
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 quarts unsalted and already popped corn
In a saucepan over medium heat, add sugar, corn syrup, water, butter, and salt. Cook until reaches a temperature of 270 degrees F. on your candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract, stirring only enough to combine the vanilla.
Pour the hot syrup over the popcorn a little at a time, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until all the popcorn is coated. Let popcorn cool slightly, until you can handle it easily.
Using well-buttered hands and working quickly, shape about 1 cup popcorn into a ball (by squeezing between both hands). Place popcorn balls onto waxed paper to cool. Repeat with remaining popcorn. NOTE: Mixture will be hot - so be careful! Let popcorn balls cool completely. Wrap each individual ball in plastic wrap. Store at room temperature.