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"Visions of Sugarplums..."


Many festive recipes, made for generations at Christmastime, have been lost in recent years - casualties of our modern search for speed and convenience. Some would taste strange to our modern palate, while others have a wonderful flavor that they are well l worth the extra effort. These include Sugarplums and the other dry-candied fruits. Marzipan and Snapdragon are so easy and so great for family fun, you might wonder why you have not been making them for years.

When I started writing the recipes down, I was remembering past Christmases in England, filled with food and traditions. It became increasingly difficult to describe how to make the food, without mentioning some of the lore and tradition that went along with them. I do hope that this expands your insight into what makes an English Christmas so very merry.

Some of the recipes are old family ones. Some are drawn from my own collection of very old cookbooks, or have been researched from other very old cookbooks. All are taste tested and approved by my family and friends. I hope you enjoy them.

Candied Whole Fruits:

Sugarplums were a type of dry-candied whole fruit, considered a very great treat at Christmastime, in the days before canning and freezing made the eating of seasonal summer fruits a possibility in the winter months. They have a taste similar to expensive French candied fruits and can be eaten as an elegant and unusual after dinner treat, in place of those ubiquitous after dinner mints. Many different fruits can be dry-candied, and although they are a little fiddly to make, the intense but delicate flavors far exceed ordinary non-candied dried fruits. If you have a home drier, you can use it for the drying process, although it is not necessary for a good result.

Old recipes for candying fruit are rather inexact. Once you start, you will soon see the syrup thickening up around the fruit, and realize at what point to remove it to the drying sheets. Firm, slightly under-ripe fruit retains its shape best, but do not use unripe or immature fruits that have not yet developed their full flavor.

To store your Sugarplums, never put them in airtight containers. They will go moldy. Good candied fruits have a soft delectable chewy texture, because they still retain a small amount of moisture. For best results, pack them in a cardboard box, layered with waxed paper, or in a pretty basket for gift-giving. They will continue to dry very slowly, and will keep as long as conventional dried fruits (if you can resist eating them for that long!).


  • Thin syrup
  • 1 pound plums
  • 1/2 pound granulated sugar
  • 1 pint water
  • Thick syrup
  • 2 pound granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water


  1. Make a thin syrup of half a pound of sugar and a pint of water. Slit a pound of plums down the seam and put them into the syrup. Poach gently until only just tender, taking care that they remain covered with the syrup, or they will lose their color. Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. The following day make a thick syrup of two pounds of sugar and two tablespoons of water. Boil until a little dropped in a bowl of cold water makes a thick but soft ball.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to become cold. Then carefully drain the plums as completely as possible from the first syrup and place them gently in the second thick syrup.
  4. Reheat and scald only until the plums look clear, taking care that they are completely covered in the syrup. Allow to cool again. Then empty them into a shallow ceramic or glass bowl, cover tightly and allow them to develop flavor in the refrigerator for a week.
  5. Take them out and spread them apart on dishes or plates. Cover loosely with baking paper, put them in a warm, dry place and turn them every day until dry. If you put them in a very low warming oven, turning them every half hour, at first, then every hour, etc., they can be dried much more quickly. At this stage a home fruit dryer can also be used if desired.

Do not discard the thin syrup. It makes a delicious sauce on ice cream, either by itself or accompanied by finely chopped Sugarplums. You can freeze it until your Sugarplums are ready.

Alternatively it can be used as the liquid in a cake recipe. You would have to reduce the sugar in the cake recipe accordingly.

Sugar Apricots: Peel and stone the apricots, leaving them as whole as possible. Put them in a large pan or preserving pan, and to every pound of apricots, add a half a pound of dry sugar. Stir gently, but well. Let them stand for twenty four hours, turning them occasionally. Then bring to the boil and cook quite rapidly, just until the apricots are transparent.

Remove from heat and allow to become quite cold. Carefully take the apricots out of the cold syrup and place them separately on plates. Dry either in the oven, as described for Sugarplums, or in a home dryer.

Sugar Peaches: Always use firm, unblemished peaches. Peel and stone them, and then simmer them gently in water until almost tender. Drain well, cover them with their own weight in dry sugar, and allow to stand for two or three hours, turning them very gently from time to time.

Return them to the heat and cook quite rapidly until they are transparent, and the syrup is pretty thick. Cover and let them stand all night.

The next day re-boil them in the syrup and allow to cool again. Repeat this several times over the next couple of days, until the syrup reduces, and the peaches absorb most of the syrup. When you think they are ready, lay them on plates, and allow to dry, turning them every day.

Sugar Pears: Sugar pears can be made the same way as Sugar Peaches. Do not core the Pears. Simply peel very thinly, taking care to leave the stalk on if possible, and process them whole.

The intense flavor of a good, candied Comice pear is a memorable experience, and was sometimes served as an unusual accompaniment to a high quality English Stilton Cheese. You can add a bowl of fresh walnuts for your guests to shell as they munch. This combination is especially good served with port after dinner, or before dinner as an elegant aperitif.

I include the following recipe more as a curiosity than a serious recipe. For a long time I have searched for a recipe for candying oranges. I have seen sliced candied orange, lemon and grapefruit for sale in France, but the difficulties of extracting the bitterness of the peel, while at the same time preserving the fragile fruit from disintegrating, has always eluded me.

To Preserve Orenges after the Portugall Fashion: "Take Orenges and core them on the side and laye them in water. Then boile them in fair water till they bee tender, shifte them in the boyling water to take away their bitternesse.

Then take sugar and boile it to the height of sirop, as much as will cover them. And so put your Orenges into it, and that will make them take sugar. If you have 24 Orenges, beate 8 of them till they come to paste, with a pounde of fine sugar, then fill every one of the other Orenges with the same.

And so boile them againe in your sirop: and there will bee marmelade of Orenges within your Orenges, and it will cut like an harde egge."

Recipe taken from: Delights for Ladies, to Adorne their Persons, Tables, Closets, and Distillatories, With Bewties, Banquets, Perfumes and Waters. By Sir Hugh Plat (1600)

Some other fruits can be candied. Whole tiny, tiny seedless mandarin oranges can be done, because their skins are sweet. However, the skins must be pierced with a skewer to allow the sugar syrup to penetrate. Cherries work well but apples cannot be can died in the usual way, because they turn into a pulp (however, see the shortcut way, below).

Imitation Sugarplums and Fruits:

If you want the elegance, but really do not have the time to candy fruit in the traditional manner, you can cheat. It doesn't taste the same, but still an interesting improvement on plain old dried fruits.

Make a heavy syrup in the proportion of two pounds of sugar to half a pint of water. (If you only want to do a very small amount of fruit, reduce the amounts in proportion.) Heat until the sugar is dissolved, then boil rapidly until a little syrup dropped into a bowl of iced water forms a soft ball. (Remove the pan from the heat when you test it. Things can change very fast at this stage!)

Dip an assortment of either home-dried, or store bought dried fruits into the syrup, and then spread them on wax-paper covered sheets to dry. Dry either in a very cool oven, turning frequently, or in a warm, dry place.

Source: Posted by Cookin'Mom at Recipe Goldmine 10/25/2001 4:24 pm.

A Collection of Victorian (and earlier) Traditional Christmas candy recipes by Jacqueline Millicent Hayes


Maricopa, Arizona

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