There are varying definitions as to what a sugar plum actually is. One food website describes it as a small round or oval shaped candy made of fondant with a candied cherry or piece of dried fruit in its centre. Another source claims that “sugarplum” was a term in Victorian times for a prune (dried plum) rolled in sugar. Yet another food website maintains that it has nothing to do with fruit at all, but rather is a confection crafted from a combination of spun sugar and syrups. Still another source dates sugar plums back to the 1500s when it was first discovered that sugar could be used to preserve fruits, although it isn’t entirely clear how the process was equated with just the plum.
However they came into existence and whatever they actually are made of, sugarplums were served at holiday feasts as a special treat. It wasn’t until the 1800s that two works of art, Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (more commonly known by its first line “Twas the night before Christmas”) and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, a ballet in two acts, connected sugar plums with Christmas.
For me, it’s visions of my mother’s shortbread, mince pies and fruit cake that dance in my head around this time of year. While I was living at home, I made a few stabs at trying to convince mum to teach me how to make these Christmas treats, to no avail. A couple of years before I left Winnipeg for Vancouver, I was determined to get my mother to come over and help me battle my fear of pastry dough and cookie decorating. No such luck.
My hopes for discovering how to emulate my mother’s delectable Christmas goodies were revived when dad sent me the whole collection of her recipes. I’ve sorted; I’ve searched; I’ve combed through every slip, scrap and sliver of paper looking for Christmas shortbread, mince pies and fruit cake recipes. If they were in the boxes and envelopes and 3-ring binders, then they were written in invisible ink.
Since living in Vancouver, I’ve sampled Christmas shortbread from a variety of bakeries around the lower mainland. No such luck. They’re too thick or too lardy or too crumbly. And none of them come in the exact shapes (Xmas tree, sled, reindeer, wreath, Christmas star) I’m on the lookout for. Earlier today, with visions of traditional Christmas treats dancing in my head, I popped into a local bakery filled with festive goodies. I brought home a small box of cinnamon rolls slathered in cream cheese icing. Not the outcome I wanted, but a Christmas morning breakfast treat all the same.
~ Merry Christmas, everyone! ~