If you would like to make these simple and wonderful tasting Tudor sweets you do have to have some patience; it will require a couple of days of slow oven-drying the preserved plums, rolling them in sugar, putting them back in the oven, rolling them in sugar once more etc. However, although they do take time to make, when they are in the oven (drying on a very low temperature) they can be left alone for you to do other things. The Victorians would often sugar coat fruits in the same way as the Tudor method described here, making them to hang on the Christmas tree as an edible treat. They can also be given as gifts, and if presented in a glass jar they will be asked for again and again each year.
As many people know The Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker ballet (with a score by Tchaikovsky and a story adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann) is named after these delicacies, and so they can be given as gifts with this theme in mind. However, be aware that the original name for ‘sugar plums’ is much older than this famous reference. The name ‘Sugar Plums’ is an archaic term, and they were originally Medieval and Tudor Comfits or ‘sweetmeats’, (large coloured and flavoured sweets made from fruit and nuts or just plain boiled sugar). Different types of preserved fruits were used in comfits, but also seeds and nuts, particularly almonds etc. And here, as with the archaic term ‘Sugar Plum’, you can replace plums for any of your favourite type of preserved fruit or nuts and follow the same method.
Sugar Plum Recipe
- Sugar, approx 1kg
- 1 jar of whole plums preserved in syrup and drained
- or preserve your own whole plums – fresh ripe plums (Damsons) and extra sugar are needed
Preserving Whole Plums In Sugar
Note: If buying Plums which are already preserved you can skip this step.
De-stalk and wash the plums you have collected or bought, then allow to dry. To help keep their shape and colour you should not peel the skins.
Put a thin layer of fine white sugar in the bottom of a stainless steel or enamel saucepan (not a copper or aluminium one etc.). Lay the plums on the sugar in a single layer. Then add enough sugar to completely cover and coat the layer of plums.
On top of this add another layer of plums and continue layering until all the plums have been used and are covered by the sugar. Cover with a lid and put this saucepan on the lowest heat possible (either in an oven or on the stove) as the sugar needs to dissolve without burning.
The sugar will dissolve (eventually) into the plum juices to make a syrup, try not to stir the plums or sugar at this stage. Once the sugar has dissolved (put the saucepan on the stove if it was in the oven) increase the heat under the saucepan until the syrup comes up to a gentle slow boil (again be careful not to break the fruit up by stirring too much). Let the fruit boil for one or two minutes, then remove the pan from the stove.
Use a slotted spoon to gently remove the fruit from the syrup. Put the plums into a large, non-metallic bowl (or plastic food storage box) and carefully pour the syrup over them. Cool then cover with a lid or a clean towel or cloth and let the plums soak for five days in the fridge – turn the plums every-so-often, and make sure they are submerged in the syrup.
Making The Sugar Plums
Pour the sugar into a bowl. Drain and shake off any excess syrup from the plums. Roll each plum in the sugar until completely coated. Place each sugar-coated plum onto a baking tray and set aside for 30 minutes, then re-roll the plums in the sugar.
Transfer the sugar-coated plums to the oven, set to its lowest setting. Heat gently for several hours, until the juice has seeped out of the plums. Coat the plums in sugar again, then place the coated plums onto a clean baking tray and repeat the drying process again.
Repeat the re-coating and drying process a further 3-4 times, over a period of several days, until the plums have completely dried out and the sugar coating is crisp.
When they are dried, (candied) make a small hole in the top of each sugared plum and thread with string to hang on the Christmas tree, best eaten within a few days. Or place in a preserve jar, put a ribbon and a gift tag on them and give them as gifts to friends.
Elinor Fettiplace’s Own Receipt Book, Written In 1603/4
DRIE APRICOCKS, PEACHES, PIPPINS OR PEARPLUMS
Take your apricocks or pearplums, & let them boile one walme in as much clarified sugar as will cover them, so let them lie infused in an earthen pan three days, then take out your fruits, & boile your syrupe againe, when you have thus used them three times then put half a pound of drie sugar into your syrupe, & so let it boile till it comes to a very thick syrup, wherein let your fruits boile leysurelie 3 or 4 walmes, then take them foorth of the syrup, then plant them on a lettice of rods or wyer, & so put them into yor stewe, & every second day turne them & when they be through dry you may box them & keep them all the year; before you set them to drying you must wash them in a litlle warme water, when they are half drie you must dust a little sugar upon them.
‘Delights For Ladies’, By Sir Hugh Platt, Published 1609
THE MOST KINDELY WAY TO PRESERVE PLUMS, CHERRIES, GOOSEBERIES
You must first purchase some reasonable quanity of their owne juyce, with a gentle heat upon embers, in pewter dishes. dividing the juice still as it commeth in the strewing: then boile each fruit in his own juyce, with a convenient proportion of the best refined sugar.