These popcorn balls are a bit on the Spartan side. They come from The New York Times Heritage Cookbook, and are clearly not the sort of thing children would eat today (well, MY kid would, but he'd drink dark molasses straight from the bottle if I'd let him). I say this not to discourage you from making these, but to point out these are not the sort of thing most people associate with popcorn balls.
My candy mixture began burning before it got to 290 degrees F. It was already threading, so I pulled it off the burner and used it. You'll need to watch it-this could be my burners, my thermometer, or just too high of a temperature in the recipe. After you get to 200 degrees F. watch the pot and pull it off at the first whiff of smoking-it will still form the balls just fine.
I wear gloves to do this sort of thing as I have some nerve damage that keeps me from feeling hot and cold as I ought to. Generally speaking, it probably isn't a bad idea anyway, though traditionalists will insist you should just oil your hands well and get right in there. Do as you see fit. Far be it from me to tell you how to handle your balls.
You Will Need:
1 cup dark molasses (I used full flavour-not blackstrap. I think mild would be OK as well)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (bicarb)
3 quarts popped corn
Mix the molasses, sugar, water, vinegar and butter in a large heavy pot. Bring to a boil stirring just until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring until it reaches 290 degrees F. on a candy thermometer (but watch and smell for any burning). Stir in the baking soda. Pour the mixture over the popcorn in a heat-proof pan (I used my roasting pan). Let stand to cool, then form into balls. When cool, wrap in wax paper. Makes about 2 dozen balls (but you can make them smaller or larger of course).