“… the children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads…” When I was a kid, I used to wonder what that meant. What are sugarplums? I imagined they must be great if the kids in “Twas the Night Before Christmas” went to bed dreaming of them instead of dreaming of presents. At some point I decided the poem must have been referring to plums the fruit, and that any kind of fruit in the winter was a treat in those days. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I finally found out that what was meant (in those days) as plum, was not the fruit, but any kind of dried fruit confection. Sugar plums were usually made from a combination of dried fruits such as prunes, figs, apricots, dates, and cherries. They were chopped fine and mixed with chopped almonds, honey and spices, rolled into balls, then often coated in sugar or coconut.
So last year, I tried making some to use as stocking stuffers. They were a big hit! So now they have found their way into my calendar of food traditions. I make them well in advance, so that their flavors can meld a good long time. I mark the container “do not open till Yule” and put it way in the back of the fridge. When it’s time to fill the stockings, I divide them up into several sandwich bags and tie closed with a ribbon. I’m glad I picked up this tradition because my kids will know what the famous poem meant,and it is a link to traditions of the past. Who knows, maybe my kids, and theirs after them, will have “visions of sugarplums” as the holidays approach.
*Edit: You can veganize these and other recipes you find on my blog (and please do), with these substitutions:
•choose from this list of vegan sugars in place of sugar
•use maple syrup in place of honey
•use Earth Balance vegan butter or coconut oil in place of butter
•use coconut milk/cream in place of sweetened condensed milk
•any vegan milk can be used in place of dairy milk
•to make vegan buttermilk, add a tablespoon of vinegar to soy milk and leave at room temperature a few minutes
•see this list of 5 Vegan Substitutes for Eggs in Baking
•use vegan chocolate
2 c. whole almonds
1⁄4 c. honey
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. ground allspice
1⁄2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 c. finely chopped dried apricots (or other dried fruit)
1 c. finely chopped pitted dates
1 c. powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, then finely chop.
2. Meanwhile, combine honey, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Add almonds, apricots, and dates and mix well.
3. Pinch off rounded teaspoon-size pieces of the mixture and roll into balls. (Rinse your hands often, as mixture is very sticky.) Roll balls in sugar, then refrigerate in single layers between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers for up to 1 month. Their flavor improves after ingredients have melded a while.