If you search the internet for “sugar plums”, you’ll come up with three different varieties:
1. The fruit version – plums preserved in sugar. Although these date back to the 16th century, they are not the inspiration for the Sugar Plum Fairy.
2. The candy version – contains sugar but no plums. Ironically, these are said to be the inspiration for The Sugar Plum Fairy! According to the Oxford Reference A-Z of Food and Drink:
“Sugarplums were an early form of boiled sweet. Not actually made from plums (they were not candied plums, as the name suggests to modern ears), they were nevertheless roughly the size and shape of plums, and often had little wire ‘stalks’ for suspending them from. They came in an assortment of colours and flavours, and frequently, like comfits, had an aniseed, caraway seed, etc. at their centre. The term was in vogue from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, but is now remembered largely thanks to the Sugarplum Fairy, a character in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet (1892).”
3. The modern fruit-and-nut version – made of nuts, spices, sugar, and dried fruit – including plums. Chef Alton Brown of the Food Network has a recipe here.
I thought I’d give the recipe a try… These sugar plums actually aren’t too sweet despite being rolled in sugar. They also look a little like meatballs, don’t they? Don’t put too much fennel in them like I did or they’ll end up with a meatball flavor too! (I used fennel as a substitute for anise seed – not recommended) 😀