What the Hell’s a Sugar Plum, Anyway?
David Sawyer, courtesy of Saveur
(This ghost of Christmas past originally posted Dec. 15, 2008)
Merriam-Webster says the term dates to 1626 to describe "a small candy in the shape of a ball or disk." "Sweetmeat" is offered as a synonym, an even more archaic word for "candy" from the 14th century. All rather vague.
Saveur has the most insight:
The famous sugar plums spoken about in Clement Clark Moore's beloved poem, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" were actually sugar-coated coriander. Later the recipe changed and included other spices and dried fruit.
Both old and new recipes use confectioners sugar, probably because it looks like snow. (Well, that, and because powdered sugar tastes good.) The updated recipe isn't so much a candy as what hikers and other Co-op shoppers know as an "energy ball"—a lump of dried fruit, nuts and sweetener.