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What the heck's a sugar plum anyway?


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kbarber, this is fascinating. I guess "sugar plum" was one of those words that -- because the context tells you clearly that a it is something sweet that children like to get as Christmas treats -- I never actually thought about its definition until your post.. blushing.gif

The phrase "SHU-gar plum FAIR-y" glides across the tongue so easily; it sounds to someone hearing it for the first time like a well-known phrase. And the usual setting for Confiturenberg tells you something about the dietary values of the place. (So why is everyone who lives there so thin?)

"Dried grape" doesn't quite do it for me. I wonder what a Dried Grape Fairy [dried-GRAPE FAIR-Y .... UGH!) would look and act like -- and, how she would dance.

So .... what are sugar plums like to eat? (Come to think of it ... what's a plum pudding like to eat? Never tried one.)

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p. 189 of Jack Anderson's THE NUTCRACKER BALLET includes a recipe for sugarplums.

his note that these barley sugar sweets were often tinted pink or pale green helped me identify why the tutu for Sugar Plum in THE NUTCRACKER of Balanchine was decorated with little 'boules' of satin, mint green and pink in color.

Vsevolozhsky's costume sketches for the first Fee Dragée in 1892 indicate similar costume detailing.

i've often wondered if sugar plums were a bit chewy, perhaps a bit like gummy bears, but i haven't ever made any.

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The recipe below is I think almost exactly how my grandmother (born 1884) made "Sugared Plums."


Sadly my mother, (an excellent cook) never had the time to make this delightful once a year treat as we were a large family and Christmas was always a period of great hustle and bustle.

Thanks for the recipe, Leonid. That looks like a lot of work, but I want to try it if I can find whole plums in syrup.

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All the same, I don't think these "sugared plums" are the "sugar plums" of Nutcracker. In German she's the Zuckerfee, and in French the Fee-Dragee; no mention of actual plums. It's just a coincidence that the English translation used the word "plum" because of the hard candies (dragees are sugar-coated almonds) called "sugar plums" that existed at the time.

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"Fee dragee" has always been my favorite. Unfortunately, I can't help thinking of the way it looks in English -- with that word "drag" (as in foot-dragging or transvestism). Not the best way to think about this ballerina role. wink1.gif

Come to think of it, "zuckerfee" doesn't work well for native English-speakers, either. As in, "There's a zucker born every minute."

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I happen to be watching the show Good Eats today, and host Alton Brown demonstrated how to make sugarplums. (In addition to my passiojn for ballet, I enjoy cooking. ) Here is his recipe. It is essentally chopped dried fruits (figs, prunes, apricots), chopped nuts and toasted spices which are melded together by honey and shaped into balls. The balls are then rolled in sugar.


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