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Sugar Plums Real and Imagined

It’s that time of year again! Sugar plum fairies are pirouetting on stages all over the country; Santa is checking his reindeer once and his list twice; the classic poem by New Yorker Clement C. Moore, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is being read to children nightly; and folks who read aloud the words, "while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads," may be wondering silently, just what the heck is a sugar plum, anyway?

Well, the answer is… it’s a real thing and it’s not. First, the real part:  Tree-Licious Orchards, a seventh-generation farm located in Warren, New Jersey, produces a small, sweet, stone-fruit called a sugar plum that's available for a short season in July and August. They’re great for out-of-hand eating, and for making yummy summer tarts and healthy fruit salads. And if you’re lucky enough to be in range of Green Markets in the New York metro area, you may be able to score a pound or two. So, be sure and put this on your to-do list for July!

Now, for the not-so-real thing: Back in 1823, when the poem, “'Twas the Night Before Christmas” was written, it was common to refer to a certain type of candy with a small, hardened sugar-shell as a dragee, a comfit, or a sugar plum. However, none of the candies of this type had plums as an ingredient. At the same time, there were sweets that likely were small, dark with raisins or currants, spiked with almonds, and somewhat plum shaped. Over time the confection evolved to contain various dried fruits and nuts, and became less ovoid, more ball shaped, but the name stuck. Reinforcing the name was the concept of something very desirable, a good job, perhaps to a political position being called a "plum" leads us to a better undertanding of what Clement Moore might have been envisioning when writing some of the most widely know words in modern  literature, "The children were nestled all snug in their beds, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads."

We hope our take on sugar plums, which incorporates a bit of plum jam, as well as cocoa, will have your family and friends recalling all the "plums" in their lives. Happy Christmas to all!

Christmas Sugar Plums

Makes about 24


½ cup dried apricots     
½ cup halved pitted dates
½ cup shelled pistachio nuts
½ cup walnuts 
¼ cup plum jam
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2 tablespoons slivovitz (plum brandy)or grape brandy
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch ground cardamom
¼ cup coarsely chopped pistachio
nuts for coating
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa 
for coating
¼ cup granulated sugar for coating, optional


1. Line a baking sheet with wax paper; set aside.  In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the apricots, dates, pistachio nuts, walnuts, plum jam, ginger, cocoa, brandy, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom until finely ground but yet a paste.

2. Remove the mixture from the workbowl to a mixing bowl, scraping down any mixture on the blade into the mixing bowl.  

3. Scoop a rounded teaspoonful of the mixture into one hand. Roll between palms to form a ball. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all the mixture is used. Chill until firm about 1 hour.

4. Place the chopped pistachio nuts, the cocoa and, if using, the granulated sugar in individual custard cups or small bowls. Roll each of the chilled balls in either the chopped pistachio nuts, the cocoa or the granulated sugar, as desired.

5. If not serving immediately, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Sugar plums will keep about 1 week.

If you like the idea of sugar plum confections, but don’t have the time or desire to create  them in your kitchen, we found a few companies that make them as holiday specialties. Our favorite is Bissinger’s Chocolate Sugar Plums, pictured here, all snug in a theme-appropriate gift box.