While visions of sugar plums…

Dec 18, 2013 | 2 comments


Sugar Plum Santa, 1868

“What is mincemeat, anyway?”  That question comes up now and then – usually at Christmas.  Ditto sugar plums.

I don’t know when I first realized that what is usually just called “mince pie” in our family was the shortened term for mincemeat pie and that the flavorful fruity pie filling customarily contained real meat.  Eeeeuuuh!  Somehow, I could never wrap my head around chopped mutton and beef suet in combination with fruit.  Not for dessert!  Chicken pot pies… yes.  Meat pasties… yes.  But as savory entrées, not sweets at the end of the meal.

When I was a child, I must have suspected that there was meat lurking in that mince pie and I imagine my grandmother did, in fact, use a recipe that included more than fruit and spices..  By the time my mother was making mincemeat pies, I think she used the prepared variety that came in jars, which included animal fat – maybe suet or butter – but no actual meat.

Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding

At our Christmas dinners, we often had a choice of desserts and, if possible, I would ask for the pumpkin pie or plum pudding — not the suspect mincemeat.  It wasn’t until I grew a little older that I realized that pumpkin was a lot like squash which, as everybody knows, is not dessert material.  And, where’s the pudding in plum pudding, anyway?  (Or in bread pudding, either, for that matter…)  Christmas desserts all seemed to be suspect.

According to Wikipedia, a 16th century recipe for mincemeat pie might have looked like this:  Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced & seasoned with pepper and salte and a lytel saffron to colour it / suet or marrow a good quantitie / a lytell vynegre / pruynes / great reasons / and dates / take the fattest of the broath of powdred beefe. And if you will have paest royall / take butter and yolkes of egges & so to temper the floure to make the paest.  In my opinion, the spelling is the best part!

As for sugar plums… I’m sure most of us have our own idea about what Clement C.  Moore was describing in “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.”  The word “sugarplum” also dates back to the 16th century and the ‘plum’ part referred to any kind of dried fruit, not just plums.  Traditionally, a sugar plum is a piece of dragée candy that is made of dried fruits and shaped in a small round or oval shape.  And, for those who wonder,  a dragée is a bite-sized, colorful form of confecionary with a hard outer shell, often used for another purpose, as in confectionary.

Don’t get me started on figgy pudding…


  1. Jo

    Figgy pudding never sounded appetizing to me, though I love our contemporary mincemeat pie. As a child, I thought plum pudding was like tapioca with plums in it! Oh well. Have a wonderful Christmas.

  2. Nancy

    Ah, figgy pudding…bring some right here! I’ve searched my memory bank and cannot recall ever eating pudding made with figs. During this month, each year, when I lie awake thinking and in awe of the different ingredients that “the holidays” contain I often recite in my head, hoping it will put me back to sleep….’Twas the night before Christmas…although the magic contained in that beloved poem soothes my thoughts, I usually finish it before I fall back into my own dreams, (usually with a Jungian twist).


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