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.