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Sugarplums: Dreaming Of The Sweet Unknown

It remains to be seen whether sugarplums can follow plum pudding's march back into modern cuisine. Here, English villagers pictured in 1938 carry plum puddings in a traditional procession.
Fox Photos/Getty Images
It remains to be seen whether sugarplums can follow plum pudding's march back into modern cuisine. Here, English villagers pictured in 1938 carry plum puddings in a traditional procession.

As the famous poem puts it, Christmas is when children are "nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads." It's a lovely image. But it does prompt the question: What exactly is a sugarplum?

"Actually, there seem to be two types of treats that are referred to as sugarplums," chef Peter Greweling told NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

One is a summertime treat, an actual candied plum made from an Italian prune plum or a damson plum. The other is a confection made from dried fruits and nuts, combined with holiday spices.

For anyone who might be thinking of making his own sugarplums, Greweling says it's easy to do — and it doesn't even require cooking.

"They're all chopped, and it's bound together with a little bit of honey," said Greweling, who is a professor in baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America. "They're rolled into little oval shapes and coated with powdered sugar," he added.

Sugarplums like the ones Greweling creates benefit from a blend of traditional flavors: fig and anise, citrus and almond, and pistachio blended with dried pears and apricots. But he says home cooks should feel free to experiment.

"In today's world, you could pick any flavor profile you wanted to and create a sugarplum with it," Greweling said.

While they were a mainstay of the Christmas holidays as recently as the 19th century, sugarplums have fallen out of favor in recent years. But like the similarly traditional — and increasingly popular — plum pudding, they may be due for a comeback.

"Will they catch on? There's no reason they shouldn't," Greweling said. "You can make sugarplums in about 10 minutes with a food processor, and no microwave."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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