|Type||Dragée or comfit|
"Plum" in the name of this confection does not mean plum in the sense of the fruit of the same name. According to The Atlantic Monthly, traditional sugar plums contained no fruit, but were hardened sugar balls. According to the Huffington Post, these hardened sugar balls were comfits, and often surrounded a seed, nut, or spice.
The word came in general usage in the 1600s, when adding layers of sweet which give sugar plums and comfits their hard shell was done through a slow and labour-intensive process called panning. Until the mechanization of the process, it often took several days, and thus the sugar plum was largely a luxury product. In fact, in the 18th century the word plum became British slang for a large pile of money or a bribe. However, by the 1860s manufacturers were using steam heat and mechanized rotating pans, and it was then available for mass consumption.
Today, some candy manufacturers have taken "sugar plum" literally, creating plum-flavored, plum-shaped candies and marketing them as "sugar plum candy".
In one non-traditional 21st-century take-off on the word "sugar plum", in a recipe for home cooks, dried fruit is chopped fine and combined with chopped almonds, honey, and aromatic spices, such as anise seed, fennel seed, caraway seeds, and cardamom. This mixture is then be rolled into balls, then coated in sugar or shredded coconut.
In popular culture
Sugar plums are widely associated with Christmas, through cultural phenomena such as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker (Composed by Tchaikovsky, 1892), as well as the line "Visions of sugar plums danced in their heads," from Clement C. Moore's poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (1823), better known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
In the children's board game Candy Land the character Plumpy, a gingerbread troll, wore a sugar plum around his neck. Receiving the Plumpy card meant the player had to undo most of their progress, which could lead to great frustration and often prolonged the game. The Plumpy character was replaced in 2002 by Mama Gingertree.
Sugar plums have also gained widespread recognition through the poem "The Sugar Plum Tree" by Eugene Field. The poem begins "Have you ever heard of the Sugar-Plum Tree? 'Tis a marvel of great renown!" Sugar Plum is also a 1971 jazz song by American jazz pianist Bill Evans, while Sugar Plum Fairies is a Norwegian folk and pop band formed in 2000.
- Ward, Artimas. The Grocer's Encyclopedia. New York: 1911.
- "Sugar Plums: They're Not What You Think They Are". The Atlantic. Dec 22, 2010.
- "Sugar Plums: What Are They, Anyway?". Huffington Post. 13 December 2012.
- Brown, Alton (2009). "Sugarplums Recipe". Good Eats.
- The Sugar Plum Tree, by Eugene Field (from FirstScience).