Popcorn balls, as featured in United Tastes of America

A sweet treat (and a tall tale) for National Popcorn Lovers Day

United Tastes of America has some sweet recipes, but it doesn’t sugar coat America's less believable food tales

Our new book, United Tastes of America is a great gift for budding cooks. This geographical collection of authentic recipes from each of the USA's 50 states offers an easy-to-understand, child-friendly view of US cookery and cuisine.  

However, it doesn’t sugar coat some of the less believable origin stories, even if the dish itself is fairly syrupy (and a perfect choice for National Popcorn Lovers Day).

“An old legend says that Nebraska’s intense sun and rain caused the first popcorn balls to form right in the field,” explains author Gabrielle Langholtz. “While this tall tale can’t be true, it is a fact that Nebraska grows excellent popping corn, and that people have been coating the popped kernels with sweet syrup for over a century.”

Langholtz also adds another, more practical cautionary note before outlining this recipe from the Cornhusker State: “Be careful working with the syrup, which gets very hot. You’ll be rewarded with a sweet-salty snack of candied corn balls that will be gone faster than you can say ‘Nebraska!’” 


4 tablespoons butter, softened, plus more for the pan and your hands 

12 cups popped corn (from about ⅓ cup raw kernels) 

½ cup corn syrup (dark or light) 

1 cup sugar 

½ teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon vinegar (any type) 

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 


Preheat the oven to 250°F. 

Brush a large roasting pan with some softened butter and add the popped corn. Place in the oven to warm while you prepare the syrup. 

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 4 tablespoons butter, corn syrup, and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to boil the syrup for 2 more minutes, stirring. Very carefully remove from the heat and stir in the salt, vinegar, and vanilla. (Use extra caution, as the syrup will be very hot.)  

Wearing oven mitts to protect your hands, carefully pour the syrup evenly over the warm popcorn in the roasting pan, mixing well with a wooden spoon to combine. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, butter your hands and form the mixture into 3-inch balls. Place them on a wire rack to cool completely before serving. 


United Tastes of America
United Tastes of America

For more dishes from the 50 States, as well as Washington D.C. and three U.S. territories, plus some wonderful, bite-sized American food nuggets of information, order a copy of United Tastes of America here.