Saturday, December 19, 2015


From author Sharon Latham:
According to Clement Clark Moore, sugar-plums are so special that of all the possible delights a child might dream of, they top the list.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…
So what exactly are these “sugar-plums” dancing in dreamland? At first glance the “sugar” and “plum” seem obvious. Sweetened fruit, right?

 All of these terms name a sweet made of sugar syrup hardened around a central seed or kernel in successive layers using a process called “panning” which is similar to how shelled candies like M&Ms, jawbreakers, and jelly beans are made. The candy pan is kept in motion over heat while successive layers of sugar are poured on and allowed to harden. Sugar-plums or comfits were most often made with caraway, fennel, coriander, or cardamom seeds at the center. Almonds were another classic base for sugar-plum — the candy then more like a modern-day Jordan almond — as well as walnuts, aniseed, and even teeny celery seeds. Strips of cinnamon bark, citrus peel, and ginger root were popular choices too.

In the centuries before mechanization, the process was one of the most time-consuming, labor intensive, and costly confectionary crafts. Specialized equipment called a “pearling funnel” or “cot” were needed to add the sugar, and the repeated “panning” to coat the hard center took hours up to days depending on the layers required for the size desired. Colored coatings were popular and created by staining the final layers of syrup with an edible pigment. Sanders, mulberry juice, and cochineal were used for red, indigo stone for blue, the juice of spinach for green, and saffron or gum gambodge for yellow. Only those with extreme skill could create a quality sugar-plum. Because of this, sugar-plums were a luxury snack for wealthy, aristocratic consumers. (Read more.)

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