"" Writer's Wanderings: Visions of Sugarplums

Friday, December 10, 2010

Visions of Sugarplums

Ever get something stuck in your head that just keeps bouncing off the gray matter and won't go away? The line "While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads," wouldn't quit scurrying around in my head a while ago. Just what is a sugarplum and can it dance? The sugarplum fairies dance in The Nutcracker. Is that the same thing?

Thank goodness for the internet and a snowy day with nothing (ha!) to do but discover as much as possible about the sugarplum. Turns out it is really a candy and one of the earliest made. One source said it originated in the Middle East in medieval days and was actually first used as something to calm the stomach. From there it was introduced to Europe by sugar traders.

Sugarplums are described as a comfit--a small sugar-coated seed often caraway or anise. The seeds are coated in layers to make them a sweet sugary treat. Some evolved into a confection that was roughly the size of a plum and had a wire hanger which allowed them to be hung on a tree.

Here is a recipe for a modern day version of the sugarplum. I don't think these will dance--except perhaps in your dreams.

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 powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C).
2. 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.
3. Meanwhile, combine honey, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Add almonds, apricots, and dates and mix well.
4. Pinch off rounded teaspoon sized pieces of the mixture and roll into balls. Roll balls in sugar and refrigerate in single layers between sheets of wax paper in airtight containers for up to one month.
Makes about 36 sugar plums.
Cooking Tip: Use of a food processor helps make preparation simple and much quicker.
Recipe source: Saveur Magazine.

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