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Visions of sugar plums

Posted by by Kate Selner, FoodE Expert, Byerly's St. Paul
Thursday, December 22, 2011

I've read the Clement C. Moore classic tale, “A Visit from St Nicholas” so many times I couldn't possibly count. When I was little, I thought sugar plums were just that - sugared plums. There was nothing of the sort involved in my own holiday celebration, so these had to be old-fashioned, something from times long ago and lost to modern society.

Just recently, I discovered what a sugar plum (the iconic image that dances in the heads of the sleeping children on Christmas Eve in this classic tale) actually was. Sugar plums are simple concoctions of dried fruit and nuts, chopped fine in a food processor and rolled in coconut or powdered sugar. There's nothing fancy about them and the ease of making them creates a delicious goodie even the youngest of hands can do.

What happens when you pull out a container of these perfect little treats is nothing short of Christmas magic. There’s no heart alive that can resist a bite of Christmas lore, a simple delight that speaks of the excited anticipation of Christmas and the impending arrival of its most sought after moment.

There is some truth to the fact that a sugar plum, at some point in history, probably was a simple piece of fruit, preserved in sugar and served only on special occasions. Historical references to sugar plums say it was originally known to be coriander coated in sugar, offering a sweet burst that led to a spicy, flavorful finish.

The recipes I have found in my research on this piece of Christmas history use orange juice, orange zest and any number of savory spices to round out the taste of dates, dried apricots, chopped almonds and pecans.

Sugar Plums
Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009

  • 1 cup each pecans and almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Unsweetened flaked coconut for rolling
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
  2. Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and orange zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture.
  3. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.
  4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut or powdered sugar. Place on the baking sheet and chill for about 1 hour until firm. The Sugar Plums will develop deeper flavors the longer they are kept, although they must stay chilled or they will get very soft.

Tags: holiday

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