My friend Jenny at Nourished Kitchen offered to share a holiday recipe. Here is an elegantly simple recipe from her canon of traditional meals and treats for the upcoming holidays.
When I hear the word sugarplum I think of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet, Nutcracker Suite. I can actually hear the music and visualize the beautiful ballerinas’ graceful twirls and leaps. Words from the classic Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore also come to mind.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…
But here’s the catch – what IS a sugarplum?
It’s not a fruit and it is not a fruit preserved in sugar, according to Samira Kawash, professor emerita, Rutgers University, who researches and writes on the cultural and social history of candy in 20th-century America. She also blogs on candy history and opinion at CandyProfessor.com.
“Sugar plum” was well known to English-speakers from the 17th to the 19th century as another name for what was sometimes called dragee or more commonly comfit. I suspect that doesn’t really clarify matters. All of these terms name a sweet made of sugar hardened around a central seed or kernel in successive layers using a process called “panning.” The glossy sugar shells on candies like jelly beans or M&Ms are produced through a similar process: The candy pan is kept in motion over heat, while successive layers of sugar are poured on and allowed to harden. Jawbreakers are made this way, using a sugar crystal as the seed. Sugar plums or comfits were most often made with caraway or cardamom seeds at the center.
Historically, sugarplums were mainly sugar
They were, handmade balls, made with layers of sugar that originally took a lot of skill to make by hand. When machinery entered the scene, it became easier to make and so more people could afford them. More and more candies were made in this way.
Candy sugarplums are a traditional Christmas candy that can be easily converted to a real food indulgence. Made primarily from dried fruits and spices, the powdered sugar is really not necessary as these sugar plums are certainly sweet enough.