Citizens – MERRY CHRISTMAS! 😀
To celebrate this most festive of holidays, I – the mighty TFD – gift you with a recipe for a dish you’ve heard of countless times and doubtless have no idea what it actually is: sugarplums!
A sugar plum is traditionally defined as a piece of dragée or hard candy made of hardened sugar in a small round or oval shape.
“Plum” in the name of this confection does not mean plum in the sense of the fruit of the same name, but referred to small size and spherical or oval shape. According to The Atlantic Monthly, traditional sugar plums contained no fruit, but were instead hardened sugar balls. According to the Huffington Post, these hardened sugar balls were comfits, and often surrounded a seed, nut, or spice.
As noted in an article in The Atlantic:
A little digging around in the OED gives some hints as to the elasticity of the word plum in the expression sugar plum. It names the fruit, of course, and the first sugar plums were likely named by association with the similar size and shape of nature’s plums. But as sugar plum passed into general usage in the 1600s, it came to have its own associated meanings quite apart from fruit.
If your mouth was full of sugar plums, it meant that you spoke sweet (but possibly deceitful) words. If you stuffed another’s mouth with sugar plums, that meant a sop or bribe that would shut someone up. In the 18th century, plum was British slang for 100 pounds, or more generally, a big pile of money. And someone who was rich could also be called a plum.
By the nineteenth century, plum has come to mean an especially desirable thing, a prize, a choice job or appointment. Trollope spells out the metaphor: “The chances are she won’t have you—that’s of course; plums like that don’t fall into a man’s mouth merely for shaking the tree.” As for the more recent U.S. usage of plums to refer to testicles, I will leave you to your own armchair etymologies.
So plum doesn’t just mean fruit; it can mean all manner of good things.
And sugar plum? By the 1860s, candy makers were using steam heat and mechanized rotating pans, so that less-skilled workers could make larger batches more easily. Sugar plums could be made in quantity, at a much lower price. So, sugar plums for all. And not just sugar plums. The falling price of sugar and the invention of labor-saving machinery meant all manner of small candies were heaping up on the confectioner’s counter. And by a process of lexical expansion and generalization, all of this candy, especially the small and the round or ovoid, could also be called sugar plum.
The recipe I give you today is actually a very modern re-interpretation of the term. In this non-traditional 21st-century take-off on the word “sugar plum”, dried fruit is chopped fine and combined with chopped almonds, honey, and aromatic spices, such as anise seed, fennel seed, caraway seeds, and cardamom. This mixture is rolled into balls, then coated in sugar or shredded coconut.
This version is unusual as it is actually rolled in violet marzipan to look like a plum and comes complete with green marzipan leaves! 🙂 I discovered the excellent recipe at thebakingpan.com and found it impossible to improve upon.
Battle on – The Generalissimo