Passing on Family Traditions: Popcorn Balls

On the Johnson side of the family…that’s my family.  We always had popcorn balls for any bigger family get together.  We had them always for Thanksgiving.  So the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I had Kalissa’s boys, Carver and Gannon at my house while Kalissa did errands.  I was trying to take care of them and trying to prep for the Thanksgiving meal that would be happening the next day.  I tried to think of something that I needed to make that they could help with.  Well, Popcorn Balls immediately came to mind.


It was so fun making these with Carver.  He is such a good conversationalist.  I was telling him all about how when I was a kid I helped my mom make popcorn balls…then he asked me “how many years I did this recipe”.  Well to be honest, pretty close to 54 (that’s how old I am).  I don’t remember a year without popcorn balls for Thanksgiving…but there might have been one.

Then Carver asked about my mom.  I got a chance to tell him all about her.

I make the marshmallow version.  I remember as a kid my mom made the kind of popcorn balls that the syrup is cooked with a candy thermometer.  I remember mom being so worried about herself or me with the recipe.  Then as I got older, she switched to the marshmallow version.

I don’t have a real recipe.  This is the best I can do…I melt one 14 ounce bag of marshmallows with one stick of butter.  I melt it in the microwave.  Then I add enough popcorn to make the perfect about of sticky…I added more popcorn than this.


I have an older version of this popcorn popper…(Find it HERE)


I make 2 1/2 batches of popcorn and add about that much to the marshmallow mixture.  The description of the popper says it makes 18 cups so I’m guessing I put in about 40+ cups of popcorn.

I wait for a second to let the marshmallow mixture cool down then I butter my hands (like putting on lotion) Then take a wad of them mixture and shape it into a ball.  I squeeze it tight.  Then I put them in a container.  Typically we wait a few hours before eating them.

Carver ended up taking the camera and snapped this picture of me making the popcorn balls.

Here they are in the bag…ready for us to eat.  Admittedly, that batch really made two more than shown. (Yes, I’m guilty)

I’m so happy I could share this tradition with Carver and Gannon.  I hope I can do this for many years to come, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if he carried on a Johnson tradition to his family.  I love keeping our family connected.

Happily, we can do this all again at Christmas.

Next up, we need to teach him to love pickled herring.  I can’t imagine that will be an easy sell as he’s a really picky eater!!

What family traditions do you keep…I love hearing from you, so please leave a comment.

28 thoughts on “Passing on Family Traditions: Popcorn Balls

  1. LaNan Eldridge

    I make krummkake as did my mom. Now my daughters and daughter in laws all have an iron so they can continue the tradition as well. Usually we make several batches at thanksgiving time but that didn’t happen this year. Anyway they don’t last past Christmas if they make it that long!! Plan to make them next week…probably by myself.

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  2. Cheryl Regan

    I have to make Lefse each year…this year I only made 21 but it’s not the holiday without it…and yes, I already ate a jar of pickled herring. My popcorn ball recipe has butter, brown sugar and marshmallows. I made some of them too. Next up, pizelles.

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  3. Paul Nordt

    When I was in the 4th grade many years ago, my teacher gave my mom a recipe for fruitcake cookies. My mom made them every year at Christmas. I carry on the tradition even though my mom passed away about 25 years ago. The cookies aren’t at all like real fruitcake and family members are quick to claim their share. Each batch has green and red candied cherries, candied pineapple, dates, golden raisins, and pecans. This year I am baking 6 batches, because my son-in-law’s side of the family love them too!

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  4. Paulette

    I think I would really like your version of popcorn balls! The ones I remember from my childhood were not that good (and there was only really one time my mom tried to make them and it was a disaster…candy thermometer, sticky mess, meanwhile the doorbell ringing with trick-or-treaters, i.e. bad timing). We had a lot of holiday foods that were wonderful and memorable. This time of year it was homemade fudge. Since my daughter was little, we’ve made caramel corn every holiday season. Gave a lot of it away to friends and family, who always either asked for the recipe or just looked forward to it again every year.

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  5. Kate

    I really like your popcorn ball tradition. My mother would make them to hand out for Halloween – that was years ago when homemade was okay, plus we didn’t have that many coming to the house since we live in farming community. She would make them at other times too. For Christmas I usually make a big variety of cookies, some fudge, and other snacks. This year I am doing less, but plan to make a fruitcake (I have excellent recipe and hubby likes fruitcake). I also make some “Christmas cookies” that have the candied cherries and pecans. They are a favorite of hubby and easy to make. I used to send cookies to kids/gkids, but just too expensive to do anymore.

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  6. sew happy

    My grandmother (my dad’s mom) would make the molasses type popcorn balls every Christmas. I have never tried to make them. My dad would have nothing else. Enjoy the holidays

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  7. Judith Fairchild

    Oh my family traditions. My Dad and we kids made donuts for Christmas morning. Mom and us made popcorn balls then dad made taffy and we learned to pull the hot taffy. Always 3 or four different flavors. Mom would make steamed plum pudding with hard sauce for Christmas dinner. You could say that’s one time we were prodigal with the sweet stuff. Both Mom and Dad were very very careful.with hot syrups and candy.

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  8. Juls

    From one side of the family, Date Nut Cake. Dates, pecans, and just enough batter to hold it together. From the Dutch side, Springerle cookies. My contribution to tradition is the cheesecake that starts with 2 1/2 lb of cream cheese. And from my Italian nanny, Biscuits. It was her mother’s recipe for a mildly sweet cookie that starts with dumping 5 lb of flour on the counter, make a well in the center, and add the rest of the ingredients, including a dozen eggs. Mix it all with your hands, then roll out and form a pile of little cookies. My girls loved to make this!

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  9. DebMac

    LOL Our “tradition” is fairly new. We have made Chex mix for Christmas since the mid 90’s. My 2 kids would ask for it so they could take it to band and orchestra camps. They assured me that it was the best way to make friends. I made the first batch with my 4 year old grandson last week. He also is a picky eater but did like the Chex mix even after the added spices.

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  10. Gayle Shumaker

    How wonderful to share your family traditions and to introduce your grandsons to their great grandmother. Both my parents and Chuck’s parents passed away before any of our grandsons were born. They to got to “meet” our parents through stories of their lives.
    Chuck is the youngest of 7, I’m an only child. When we got married I was assigned Christmas for the family holiday. There were some miserable years of me standing in the shower Christmas morning sobbing before I grew a backbone and said enough. I ended up starting our family celebrating like I had grown up. We celebrated on Christmas Eve at my maternal grandmother’s. She made baked spaghetti and dessert was a pudding that was more like a cake with rum sauce or lemon sauce. This way of celebrating was what my sons and grandsons grew up with rather than the earlier insanity.

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  11. Gloria B.

    A white chocolate Chex/Cheerios mix is a tradition here. Enough to cover kitchen island. Bagged up it gets distributed to everybody as a kind gesture with a greeting card or accompanying a gift card or small gift. Please consider videoing your story with Carver following along. Passing on traditions in video captures the tradition, the story, the people and the recipe for years and years to come. Great post! Thanks.

    Reply
  12. Sharon F

    Our southern traditions were sausage cheese balls for savory and bourbon balls for sweets. Both are yummy! My husband’s family did the homemade Chex mix which my husband swears was so much better than the store bought kind. Actually we won’t be doing either this year, just us here and we don’t need to eat it.

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  13. Maureen

    I make an egg casserole that my kids call Christmas Casserole. I make two–one with onions and one without. Even though it will just be my husband and I this year, we will have Christmas Casserole, and my kids will make it at their homes.

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  14. Candy

    Nuts & Bolts/Chex Mix is our annual tradition to enjoy and share with friends/neighbors. I think I’ll make them just for us this year though … everyone here is sticking to their own family. When our kids were growing up I always made Rosettes for Christmas. I still have the irons to make them, but I no longer have a deep fryer. Oh well … it’s a happy memory… they were delicious!

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  15. Lorraine

    I make spritz cookies as my Grandmother did, I make krumkake as my Mother did, and I make peanut brittle because we like it.

    It looks like the boys enjoyed cooking with Grandma. Making memories.

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  16. Lace Faerie

    With very few exceptions, we took our little family home to my Mama & Dad’s every year. My HH’s family always opened Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, so we would start Christmas there then make a 6 hour trip down the interstate to my family. It was pretty magical when the kids were little. Go to sleep at one grandparents’ home and wake up in the other grandparents’ home. With 5 families (13 grandkids) gathering for Christmas morning it was a wonderful madhouse of catching up, opening gifts, playing games, watching Christmas movies. We all had Christmas brunch around the giant table but the rest of the day, it was gnoshing on everyone’s favorites and lots of sweets! The drawback to always having Christmas away was that when Mama passed away and Dad moved up to us, we didn’t have our own traditions. My HH & I still live in our small 1000sq’ “starter” home. When our little family grew into 9 adults (including Dad) and the grandkids came along, we just didn’t have room for everyone to be comfortable. I really grieved not hosting everything (along with the loss of my best friend, Mama) One day, I realized that when one daughter started hosting our family Thanksgiving and our son hosts Christmas, they were weaving their families’ holidays into traditions that will live on when I am gone.

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  17. Amy

    I love this! My mom and sister make lefse every year. My great aunt Betsy from Norway taught my mom to make it. And yesterday was cookie baking day. My whole family was here to help. Disclaimer: there are only 6 of us and we wore masks the whole time.

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  18. Gayle in Tennessee

    We make homemade cheese raviolis and red sauce every Christmas eve. My daughter and husband make the dough and the cheese filling. They roll out a sheet of dough and lay it on the ravioli form that allows me to fill 10 at a time with cheese and then top with another layer of dough. I cut them apart and lay them out to dry. The red sauce is cooking while we make the raviolis. It is great fun and whoever is at our house on Christmas Eve joins in, but typically there is only 3 of us which will be the case this year.

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  19. Claudia Duke

    I make 3 fruitcake recipes to share with family and friends. My recipe came from my Czech granny. Then I make several dozen fruit kolaches. It is what I grew up with and my husband has learned to loved them too.

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  20. Kim J LeMere

    Gannon and Carver look like they are having a fun time making popcorn balls with you. My dads mother always made a sour cream roll out cookies with frosting and we decorated them with Christmas candies. To this day I still make them and send our children and my dad a box for Christmas. You can imagine with 6 kids all frosting and sprinkling that my mom had a pretty good mess when they were done but all of us recall the fun making those cookies. I hope my children carry it on long after I’m gone.

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  21. Sylvia Adair

    My grandmother was a great cook. She started making mini cheesecakes for Christmas in the 1960s, and it’s been a family tradition ever since. They freeze easily, so I can make them up ahead. Thank you so much for this lovely blog, and for all you put into it.

    Reply
  22. Janine Baker

    My great grandmother used to make the caramel type popcorn balls. My mom made the syrup kind that you colored red/green for festive feeling. I haven’t thought about them in a long time! My Mom always made HUGE batch of Chex Mix for Christmas snacking, fudge (which I CANNOT make-I can screw up even the no-fail kind!!). This year, for the first year since my Mom died, I am going to make her Russian Tea Cakes. They are always my favorites, but her signature, so have not made them since. We need the comfort this year, even if our diets don’t NEED them! Making memories is everything, especially this year! Hugs,

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  23. Deb E

    I look forward to your blog posts every day — such happy children & family, and you are so creative, whether its quilting, cooking, renovations for your quilt studio & home projects. Just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for your posts! I know they are a lot of work to put together, but SO very much enjoyed (and I save a lot of ideas, too, for use in the future!). Merry Christmas to you & your lovely family!

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