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sugar plums

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Pop quiz time! Which of the following statements is true about sugar plums:

A: They are made with plums.
B: They are made with sugar.
C: All of the above.
D: None of the above.

If you guessed “none of the above” you are right, my friends. Sugar plums are neither plum nor sugar (okay, they are a small amount of honey and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, but no granulated sugar). Sugar plums are actually, kinda, totally healthy as far as holiday confections go. They are like LÄRABARS but without the fancy packaging and wide distribution.

If you are anything like me, your total sugar plum experience amounts to the Nutcracker and the oh so famous line in Twas the Night Before Christmas, but sugar plums are much more than just fodder for Christmas stories. Sugar plums are very real, very delicious holiday candies that are easy-as-can-be to make.

If these little balls of spiced deliciousness are plum-free, you are probably curious as to how they got their name. Apparently, at one time in the history of the English language, plum was used to mean any kind of dried fruit. And since this particular candy dates back to the 1660s, the name reflects its historical origins. Of course, you could use modern-day prunes (dried plums) in the recipe if you are a stickler for cohesiveness, but my recipe uses dried apricots and dates.

Want another dose of etymological fun? Apparently sugar plum was used as a slang in 18th century England to mean anything good or pleasurable. If you were told you had a “mouthful of sugar plums” you were someone who said sweet things. Soon after that, plum came to mean anything good in life. A ton of money, a good job, happy family, etc. It’s unclear if the poet that wrote …while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads” in Twas the Night Before Christmas meant that the kids were literally thinking about the candy or figuratively thinking about all the good things in their life.

Fascinating. The things you learn while Googling cooking…

sugar plums

sugar plums

Yield: 24 sugar plums
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

This recipe is made decidedly easier by the modern invention of the food processor. If you want to be accurate to the times, feel free to chop all the ingredients into very small bits by hand.


  • 2 cups almonds
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups whole dried apricots
  • 15 pitted Medjool dates (about 1 cup)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Zest of one orange
  • Confectioner's sugar for dusting


  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Spread almonds into a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until almonds are roasted and slightly brown.
  3. Add almonds to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chopped into fine pieces, about the size of a match head.
  4. Add honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, apricots, dates and orange zest to the almonds. Pulse until mixture is well chopped and beginning to clump.
  5. To form sugar plums, pinch off a tablespoon of mixture and roll into a ball. When all sugar plums are formed, dust the top with confectioner's sugar.

Have you ever eaten sugar plums before?

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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13 Responses
  1. fascinating! I always thought that when people said things were “Plum” that they were saying things were “Plumb” – even, level, exactly as they should be. Interesting to think that they were saying things were good/fine/dandy like Christmas Candy. 😀

  2. Yummy 🙂 I’ve never had a sugar plum and didn’t know much about them(except that they weren’t actual plums – no idea how I knew that, lol) They look delicious though, I’ll have to give them a try(especially with those spices and orange zest – yum!). I love any kind of larabar type treat 😀

  3. Michelle

    I have now made these three times and we love them. My two year old can’t get enough of them! They are also excellent with agave nectar and I plan to try making them with other kinds of nuts. Thanks Cassie!

  4. Lora

    Forgot to let you know — I made these for a Christmas family get-together, and they were a hit! Thank you for sharing the recipe and all the thought/research that went into it.

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