“while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.”

what on earth is a sugarplum. maybe a sugared plum? not so!

last night, as is tradition, the wallaces read out loud “the night before christmas” with exaggerated sound effects. that evening, my dad said he was going to dream of sugarplums. my mom and i were wondering exactly what was a sugarplum. well, let me tell you!

a sugarplum is a comfit – a candy with a center that’s covered in hard outer sugar, not unlike an m&m, jawbreaker, or even a cadbury miniegg. in the 1600s, popular comfits were everyday seeds and nuts, like fennel, caraway, cardamom, almonds, ginger, cinnamon, anise, and even celery seeds.

they were particularly difficult to make because the sugar coating had to be gradually built up with sugar syrup with a special funnel. it went on for hours and hours, even days on end, until 30 layers of sugar were on the innards. as you can imagine, these were snakes for richie riches. now, not so difficult as they are mostly automated. and most likely do not include a plum.

AND, the word sugarplum meant more than just the candy. in the 1600s, it meant you spoke sweetly but might have a hidden agenda (passive aggressiveness?). to sugar plum in the 1700s meant to pet, fawn over. and in the 1800s, anything wonderful and desirable was “plum.” (think sugarplum fairy in the nutcracker.)

these days, the only time we hear sugarplum is in moore’s poem, and now you know what a sugar plum actually is.

in fact, you can MAKE a sugarplum if you wish. courtesy of alton brown:

6 ounces slivered almonds, toasted
4 ounces dried plums
4 ounces dried apricots
4 ounces dried figs
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup honey
1 cup coarse sugar

  1. Put the almonds, plums, apricots, and figs into the bowl of a food processor and pulse 20 to 25 times or until the fruit and nuts are chopped into small pieces, but before the mixture becomes a ball.
  2. Combine the powdered sugar, anise seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, cardamom, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add the nut and fruit mixture and the honey and mix using gloved hands until well combined.
  3. Scoop the mixture into 1/4-ounce portions and roll into balls. If serving immediately, roll in the coarse sugar and serve. If not serving immediately, put the balls on a cooling rack and leave uncovered until ready to serve. Roll in the coarse sugar prior to serving.
  4. The Sugarplums may be stored on the cooling rack for up to a week. After a week, store in an airtight container for up to a month.

(i don’t know if i would eat this.)

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