Have you ever wondered about what sugar plums – as in the “visions of sugar plums” from Clement C Moore’s famous poem “T’was The Night Before Christmas” – really are? I did too!
Back in the 1600’s, the term was often used to refer to a boiled sweet, or hard candy, as they are known in North America. However, by the time Clement C Moore wrote his poem around 1823 they were actually candied plums, generally made from a variety of plum known as Elvas plums. Sometimes other fruit such as figs, dried apricots or dates would be candied and referred to as sugar plums, even if they were not actually plums.
Elvas plums are a a variety of plum known as Greengages. They grow in the south of Portugal – more specifically in the Elvas municipality which is located in the region of Alentejo, near the Portuguese border with Spain.
Agatha Christie was said to be fond of sugar plums and wrote about them in a short story entitled “Pudding” published in 1960. They feature in the classic James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. They were also the inspiration for the Tchaicovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.
How Are Sugar Plums Made?
The recipe is said to date back to the 16th century and they are still made roughly the same way. Elvas plums are harvested in June or July and then cooked in syrup. They are then left in the sugar syrup over night, boiled again and then left to rest for six to eight weeks so that the syrup totally saturates the plums. They are then rinsed, dried in the sun, packaged and shipped.
Where Can I Get Sugar Plums?
The most famous stockist in England is the iconic London department store Fortnum and Mason. They have been selling them every Christmas since 1815 – and such was demand in years gone by that Fortnum and Mason used to announce their arrival in The Times newspaper.
What Do Sugar Plums Taste Like?
These treats do have a seed, or pit, inside them, so you do need to be careful when you bite into them. When I filmed this video, I tasted them for the first time, so watch to find out what I thought!
More Christmas Content
For more Christmas content, please click here.