Twas the Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore. It’s become an indelible part of the American Christmas tradition, and many of us know it by heart. The line I’ve always wondered about is:
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads….
So I set out to discover what this delectable sounding treat might be. The dictionary defines a sugarplum as a small round or oval piece of sugary candy. Knowledge about exactly what it’s made of is considerably less exact. Perhaps the name arose from its resemblance to a small plum, or from the practice of preserving plums in sugar, a way to keep some summer fruits around for a while longer. No matter. Recipes using real plums date from at least the 16th century. (The sugarplum referred to in the Victorian poem are composed of a mix of ingredients, including dried fruits and nuts.)
The making of genuine sugarplums is quite time consuming, although it is not difficult.
1 pound of plums
2½ pounds of white granulated sugar
16 ounces of water plus 2 Tbls water
1. Make a thin sugar syrup by mixing ½ lb of sugar and 16 oz. of water in a large pot.
2. Slit the plums down the seam and place them into the syrup so they are fully covered. Poach gently until just tender. Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the plums to absorb the sweetness.
3. Make a heavy sugar syrup by mixing 2 pounds of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a large pot. Slowly boil until a drop of syrup in cold water makes a thick but soft ball. Transfer plums from the thin syrup to the heavy syrup and remove from heat, making certain plums are covered by the heavy syrup. Allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for about a week.
Once flavor has developed, separate plums onto parchment paper and place them in a warm (170 degree) oven, turning them every half hour until dry (or use a home dehydrator.)
Entertain visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy while enjoying this traditional confection!