Festive foods: sugar plums
The only two references to sugar plums I know of are in The Night Before Christmas ("visions of sugar plums danced in their heads") and the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.
As a child I thought the term just meant candies and other goodies, as old fashioned as "sweetmeats." I'm pretty sure the illustration in my Night Before Christmas book looked like the one to the right, which is what gave me that idea.
But searching the Web, I think the Historical Cookery Page is probably as accurate a source as any in saying what sugar plums are and how to make them.
However, I notice many food bloggers embrace this recipe, originally published in Saveur magazine, which may have no historical basis but probably tastes pretty good:
2 cups whole almonds
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup finely chopped dried apricots
1 cup finely chopped pitted dates
1 cup confectioners' sugar
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Arrange almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in oven for ten minutes. Set aside to cool and then finely chop. Using a food processor makes all the chopping easier.
- Meanwhile, combine honey, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Add almonds, apricots, and dates and mix well.
- Pinch off rounded teaspoon sized pieces of the mixture and roll into balls. (Rinse your hands often, as mixture is very sticky.)
- Roll balls in sugar and refrigerate in single layers between sheets of wax paper in airtight containers for up to one month. Their flavor improves after ripening for several days.
Makes about 75 sugar plums.