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What is a Sugar Plum?

By Deborah Walker
Updated May 16, 2024
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A sugar plum is a bite-sized piece of strongly-flavored, sugary, oval-shaped candy. A combination of dried fruits, such as apricots, plums and dates, are finely chopped and then mixed with chopped almonds and the candy maker's choice of aromatic spice seeds. Cardamon, caraway, anise and fennel seeds are the most commonly used spice seeds. The sugar plum is most often associated with the Christmas holiday season and usually is eaten only at that time of year.

To make sugar plum confectionery, any dried fruit or combination of dried fruits should be finely chopped. Chopped almonds, orange zest and aromatic spices are then added, and the mixture is blended well with honey. This will create a sweet meat that can be shaped into a small ball or oval. Following this, the candy is rolled in powdered sugar, finely shredded coconut or fondant, which is a mixture of sugar and water. The resulting candy is an extremely sweet treat.

The term "sugar plum" is first mentioned in recipes as early as the 17th century. At that time, the recipes described how to preserve fruit using sugar, a relatively new idea. Over the years, the recipe was changed to include nuts and seeds, becoming more like the treats traditionally referred to as sugar plums. These early candies were about the same size as a plum and sometimes had a wire stem inserted.

Ready-made sugar plum candy is difficult to find. Most of it simply is a purple, plum-flavored, jelly-type candy with a sugary coating. This usually is made in the shape of a plum or a flat, oval disc. These treats are entirely different from the candy most people have in mind when they envision this confection.

The well-known poem A Visit From St. Nicholas was written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1823. In his poem, Moore writes "the children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads." That line, at least in part, is responsible for most of the English-speaking world's association of the sugar plum with Christmas. In Tchaikovsky's 1882 ballet The Nutcracker Suite, the movement entitled "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" further solidified the association of this candy with the holiday season.

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Discussion Comments

By donasmrs — On Jan 10, 2015

I made sugar plums for the first time and realized why children dreamed about them in A Visit From St. Nicholas. They are so sweet and amazing but after they're made, they do need to sit for a day for the texture and flavor to really come together. That wait can be quite difficult!

And these days, kids get to have so much candy during the holidays and there are so many options. I'm sure in the past, sugar plums were probably one of the few treats children got at Christmas time. So that must have made them even more excited.

By literally45 — On Jan 09, 2015

@ZipLine-- I know about the Asian candy called sugar plum. It's unfortunately very different than what you want. The Asian candy is a hard caramel like candy made from cream and brown sugar. It has dried plum bits inside, that's why it's called "sugar plum."

I don't think you're going to find the Christmas tradition sugar plums anywhere other than home confectioneries where you can order these treats. Your best bet for the next holidays is to find a good recipe, gather the ingredients and make it yourself.

I make mine every year and I think it's well worth the effort. I'm just happy that my kids are growing up with the same holiday traditions I grew up with.

By ZipLine — On Jan 09, 2015

I wanted ready-made but fresh sugar plums this holiday season but like the article said, couldn't find any online. The only things that came up were the jelly candies mentioned here and an Asian candy called "sugar plum" although it seemed to be something else.

Does anyone know about the latter? Is the Asian candy any similar to what we know as sugar plum? I'd like to try it sometime.

By Vincenzo — On Jan 04, 2015

Although probably more popular in Europe, I do believe you can find sugar plums in some parts of the United States during Christmas. Like a lot of things in a large country like the United States, what region you happen to live in often determines what is popular and what is not.

By Melonlity — On Jan 03, 2015

That poem is also called "The Night Before Christmas," but that is neither here nor there. What does seem relevant is that the poem is one of the few places that most American children have ever heard of sugar plums.

Honestly, I have never run across a sugar plum although I have heard that poem all my life. I am glad the author of this article described what one is, though. I have always wondered.

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