The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads...
Most of us could probably quote the poem "Twas the Nite Before Christmas", but if we were to do that and one of our most curious children were to pipe up out of bed and interrupt, asking, "Mommy, what's a sugar plum?", what would you say?
While it would have been common in the "olden days" to offer a piece of fruit as a sweet, a sugar plum really has nothing to do with fruit. In fact, sugar plums were one of the most difficult and tedious confections to make, requiring special equipment and real expertise. Just a single batch of sugar plums could literally take days. So, if they aren't actually plums, what are they?
A sugar plum could best be compared to what we call Jordan almonds, an almond with a hard candy coating over it. Also, think peanut M & M's. Sounds simple enough these days, but not just anyone could have made these candies, and as such, they were usually only found among royalty or the very wealthy. These were, indeed, quite special treats.
So when our modern day children lie in bed the night before Christmas, filled with excitement and wonder and can hardly contain it all in their little bodies, what they might be imagining is "sugar plums"....their favorite and rarely enjoyed sweet....or perhaps it's more of a metaphor for the overwhelming sweetness of Christmas mornings past, filled with love and family and all of their favorite things. And, of course, presents. Or maybe it's merely Peanut M & M's. :)
So if you're up for the task, go ahead and make some sugar plums. Many of the recipes will include dried fruit for the center, and that will be equally wonderful and sweet. Alton Brown has a great one that you can find here. As you make these treats, you can have a sweet little history lesson also. :)