Mary’s Sticky Popcorn

Today I am sharing a very special treat, one my girls grew up calling Sticky Popcorn. It takes minutes to make and will completely turn your idea of caramel corn on its head.

Mary's Sticky Popcorn | The Good Hearted Woman

Mary | What's for Dinner, Mama?

Mary with Cheryl’s daughter, Emily.  Emily now how a daughter of her own.

But first, I want to tell you about Mary.

Back when my oldest girls were little (before some were even born), we lived in a cul-de-sac three doors down from my BFF Cheryl. Next to Cheryl lived a little woman named Mary, age 90ish. Mary lived on her own long past the time when most folks need to have more assistance, and I learned a lot by watching her.

Mary was able to stay independent for so long for two reasons: First, she lived next door to Cheryl and her family. (If you know them, that is all the explanation you need: they are amazing examples of loving and serving their neighbors.) Second, Mary learned to adapt. For example, she kept a fully decked Christmas tree year round. The tree was only about three or four feet tall, and it sat eleven months out of the year in her garage, protected by a white plastic garbage bag tied closed at the top of the tree. Every December, someone would bring it in from the garage, sit it on a little table, untie the bag and carefully pull it down to reveal the tree hanging with ornaments. Mary would arrange the bag around the base like a tree skirt, and then enjoy her beautiful decorations until the New Year. When the holidays were over, someone would pull the bag back up, tie it off and sit it back in her garage until the following year. As far as I am concerned, it was brilliant!

Which brings me back to Sticky Popcorn. Every Christmas season, Mary would make her caramel corn and give it out to the neighborhood kids in the form of popcorn balls. Normally, I don’t like popcorn balls at all. Never have. They are hard and stick to your teeth, and the popcorn is always gross. So the first time one of my kids offered me a bite, I turned her down. But then as she ate it, I noticed that there was none of the distinctive “crunch-crunch-crunch” and side-of –mouth biting going on like there always was with typical popcorn balls. She just took neat little bites and chewed them satisfyingly – almost like she was eating an ice cream cone. So I snuck a bite. And another. And then another. (Good thing she was little, or I would have never gotten away with that many bites.) And what I discovered was, Mary’s popcorn balls were different from any I had ever had. As soon as I could, I asked her for the recipe and was floored by the simplicity of it. I was soon making Mary’s caramel corn as a family treat almost weekly, although we dispensed with the popcorn “ball” model almost immediately.  It’s soft and – despite the name – not really sticky at all.  Mostly just wonderful.

Mary 3Mary has been gone for many years now, and I don’t make Sticky Popcorn very often anymore, but every time I do, I think of her.

I asked Mary once what the best thing about getting old was, and I will never forget what she said: “By the time you get to be about 80, you can say anything you want to, because no matter what you say, people either think you’re wise or you’re crazy.

So now, my friends, I am passing this little bit of Mary onto you. Enjoy!

NOTE: The credit for the pictures of Mary goes to my dear friend Cheryl and her husband, Monte. Remember how I said they were amazing? Well, Cheryl has an iffy printer/scanner, and so Monte delivered these photos to me at 10pm last night, in the snow.  Really.

4.5 from 2 reviews
Mary's Sticky Popcorn
Prep time
Total time
This caramel corn is very, very soft and easy to eat. My kids even ate it when they had braces. (Just don't tell their orthodontist!)
  • 1 cup butter
  • ½ cup Karo syrup
  • 1⅓ cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup unpopped popcorn (or about 8 quarts popped)
  1. Pop popcorn and set aside in large bowl. (I use my biggest Tupperware bowl.)
  2. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a full rolling boil. (This is a boil that cannot be stirred down.) Boil 30 sec-1 minute, but not any more than that.
  3. Immediately remove from heat and pour over popcorn. I usually do this in two big bowls to give myself room to stir, and then pour it all into one bowl.
  4. Stir and mix to cool. Form into balls if desired.

Mr. B always says he doesn’t like popcorn. Which must be why he ate almost half a batch of Sticky Popcorn last night – all by himself!! Allow me to quote him: (nom-nom-nom) “This popcorn is (nom-nom) really (nom-nom) really (nom-nom-nom) delicious!”

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Renée ♥

I'm a writer, teacher, autoharper, food & lifestyle blogger and proud Native Portlander.In my spare time, you can find me writing love songs about cowboys, exploring the moss-covered nooks and crannies of the Pacific Northwest, and making music with my talented singer-husband.
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  1. says

    First of all, Mary sounds amazing, and I absolutely love her words of wisdom! Secondly, that popcorn recipe sounds DELICIOUS! I am definitely making that this holiday season! Finally, hope you have a very happy SITS day! :)

    • says

      Thank you for stopping in! Those words of Mary’s have always stayed with me, and I’m glad to pass them on, along with her delicious recipe!

    • says

      I’ve learned that most “food blogs” – vegetarian or not – have a lot to offer veggie families – some just make you work harder to find it!

    • says

      Thank you for stopping in, Pam! I checked you blog – thank you so much for the post about the free classes on Craftsy. I plan to look into that more thoroughly. (Because I don’t have enough to do.)

  2. says

    The kids here would love Mary’s Sticky Popcorn! Happy SITS Day!
    Brittany recently posted…WeirdMy Profile

  3. says

    We are having our second snow day in a row today, so this popcorn is being made TODAY. I’m all out of eggs so I can’t bake anything but I have all these ingredients. You are a lifesaver Renee – thank you! Hope you have a fabulous SITS day.
    Dana recently posted…The time I was in a Christmas flash mobMy Profile

    • says

      Timing is everything, isn’t it! Have a wonderful snow day, and I hope Sticky Popcorn becomes a tradition at your house too!

  4. says

    This recipe sounds easy and great to have with a housefull of hungry teens!

  5. Emily says

    I knew when you asked for pics that my parents likely had some somewhere. I love the post and when you bring it up I remember the popcorn too. I will for surely be making some this week.

    • says

      Your Dad brought the pictures over late last night – he said it was easier than figuring out how to scan them on their printer! Your parents are the most wonderful people – but you already know that. ♥

  6. says

    What a wonderful tribute to what sounds like an amazing woman! I love that little detail of the story of her year round Christmas tree! I’m with you on the lack of interest in popcorn balls, but the fact that you (and your husband) were turned around by this recipe means I HAVE to try it. Thanks for sharing the story of Mary, and it really embodies the holiday spirit of remembering and appreciating everyone in your life, past and present.
    Pech recently posted…Macy’s Culinary Council in Portland: Dec 14 at Washington Square MallMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you for your incredibly thoughtful comments, Pech! This time of year always gets me thinking about the people who have touched my life for good.

  7. says

    What a great story and what a great recipe. Thank you for telling us about Mary. It makes the recipe all that more special! What a special person you are for keeping her memory alive!
    Carla recently posted…BELIEVING IN THE MAGIC OF THE SEASONMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you, Carla! I think it is so important to remember folks who have touched our lives, even in small ways. It gives me hope for my own legacy too – that maybe someone will want to pass a bit who I am along someday too.

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