Dancing with ‘sugarplums’

Just what are sugarplums, anyway? According to Clement Moore’s classic holiday story poem, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” children had visions of them dancing in their heads. And sugarplum fairies flit magically in the most well-known and traditional of holiday ballets, “The Nutcracker.”

When I have done my own envisioning of what a sugarplum might be, I have thought of everything from an actual sugared, dried plum to colorful gumdrops. Turns out, sugarplums, in their original form, could be anything from a nut or a seed coated in a hard sugary shell to simple hard candies in a range of colors, according to National Geographic’s “The Plate”.

Reviewing all the goody recipes coming my way this holiday season (and there are many out there, as those of you plugged into the recipe circuit will attest), one simple recipe for — you guessed it — sugarplums, brought my perusing to a screeching halt. At last, I’d find the secret components to this imagination-stirring treat! You can make a sugarplum, and in this case, it is easy, requires no baking, and is even somewhat healthy (the fact that this version is “gluten-free” is somewhat irrelevant to me, but might be an appealing option for many here).

This sugarplum is made up mostly of nuts and dried fruits (not plums, although I see no reason why you could not substitute prunes or any fruit of choice). When I got a whiff of this pure combination of natural ingredients, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and flavored with orange peel, I excitedly gathered what I needed, and I literally had visions of these sugarplums in my head!!!

I’ve long associated the smell of oranges with Christmas. We got them in our stockings from Santa, and it was a done deal after that. Now, whenever I can get orange peel or oranges in any of my holiday recipes, I do.

Rich walnuts, dates and sour cherries (another favorite!), are blitzed until fine in the food processor. The moisture in the dried fruits is the first level of adhesive to gather everything into balls.

But what really brings everything together is some delicious honey (of which I have a Kansas blend procured by my beekeeper sister). The smell of this concoction as I mixed everything together was enough to kick me into holiday mode. It smelled like Christmas!

I strayed from the recipe slightly…I didn’t have any allspice, so I left it out, and I added maybe 1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut. The balls are rolled in coarse, crunchy raw or turbinado sugar, giving them a natural sparkle, but it occurred to me, one could roll them in more coconut, too.

What pretty little aromatic gems! Eating one the day they were made, I knew that the more they sat and the more the flavors had time to meld, the better they would become. And I was right! Intensely fruity, the spices and orange came through stronger in the subsequent days they were eaten. They tasted like familiar holiday flavors (fruitcake? Mince pie?). They smelled and tasted like Christmas, my mother said.

And that is description enough…

Gluten-Free Sugarplums
From “Taste of Home” (www.tasteofhome.com)
Makes 2 1/2 dozen

1 1/3cups chopped walnuts
1 cup pitted dates
1 package (5 ounces) dried cherries
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup coarse sugar

Place the walnuts, dates and cherries in a food processor; cover and
process until finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl; stir in the
honey, orange peel and spices. Roll into 1-in. balls, then roll in sugar.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Blogger’s Note: I added about 1/4 cup dried, unsweetened flaked
coconut to this recipe.

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