Ah, Christmas time. The time of year when we hear of the Sugar Plum fairy, and children have visions sugar plums dancing in their head. Yet most of us have never, knowingly, experienced a sugar plum, mostly because when one thinks of one, they think “Sugared Plum.”
Yet this is only partially the answer to the question of “What in the heck is a Sugar Plum?”
There is some back story here that needs to be explained, especially in regard to fruit.
Unlike today, where we can walk into a grocery store at any time of year and be reasonably assured of finding fruit, back in the sixteenth century, this was most certainly not the case. If one could not dry the fruit, then it was only available when the fruit was in season. For countries like England, where the climate is less than fruit friendly, this was a problem. In fact, many people believed at the time that fresh fruit should be viewed with suspicion, as it rotted quickly. Better to dry it and be done with it.
That is, until sugar popped onto the. Now they had a way to preserve the fruit without drying it out completely. Whole fruits were plopped into sugar syrup for days at a time. The end result was a fruit whose moisture was inundated with sugar, preventing the decomposition to the fruit.
The one fruit that benefited from this was the plum, a fruit that tastes markedly different in its non-dried state than its dried. Sugared plums became quite popular, and took off in sales.
However, it wasn’t just the plum that gained popularity. Many fruits did, from the apricot, to the cherry, to the peach. Many of these fruits became categorized under the name “sugar plums”, much in the same way that “Kleenex” has become a default term for Tissue paper.
So when children dream of sugar plums, they’re not dreaming of one specific type of confection, but an entire catalog of candy.