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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "DANCE OF THE SUGAR PLUM FAIRY")

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

Tonight 'tis the night before Christmas, and as the poem we all know, goes, "Children everywhere will be nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums dance in their heads." It's a lovely image, but what is a sugarplum? We decided to consult the experts. We found one in chef Peter Greweling, he's professor of baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America. And he joins us from there, welcome.

PETER GREWELING: Thank you very much.

WERTHEIMER: Do you know what a sugarplum is?

GREWELING: I do, and actually there seems to be two types of treats that are referred to as sugarplums. One of them is actually a candied plum which would have been made during the summer months, probably from an Italian prune plum or a damson plum. And the other one is, probably more commonly what's referred to as a sugarplum, and it's a homemade confection, and it consists of dried fruits and nuts with what are sort of traditional holiday spices. They're all chopped, and it's bound together with a little bit of honey, rolled into little oval shapes, and coated with powdered sugar.

WERTHEIMER: So, if you want to make sugarplums you don't actually have to cook or bake?

GREWELING: No. Actually, you don't need any heat at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: These days it's really nice to have a food processor, but if you want to be really traditional about it, you can chop them with a knife.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: Well, you sent us some - a box of sugarplums, which I'm going to open, if I can get the knots undone. OK. Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOX OPENING)

WERTHEIMER: Now, I have three flavors - fig and anise, citrus-almond, and pistachio.

GREWELING: Uh hum.

WERTHEIMER: You know, they look a little bit like those candies we used to - what are called, snowballs or something?

GREWELING: Or, they also look like the Christmas cookie tuferners(ph).

WERTHEIMER: That's it. That's what I'm thinking.

GREWELING: Right.

WERTHEIMER: Well, I'm opening pistachio. It looks like a little lump.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREWELING: Well, it's a sugarplum.

WERTHEIMER: And it's soft. Actually, it is delicious. It has - this is a nice taste of nuts, and citrisey flavors.

GREWELING: Right.

WERTHEIMER: What is the fruit in there, candied fruit?

GREWELING: The pistachio one, I used both dried pears and dried apricots, and then I used a blend of spices.

WERTHEIMER: I mean, could you just sort of make it up as you go along? I mean, whatever kind of dried fruit you can find?

GREWELING: Well, you know, Linda that's pretty much what I did. I did some research and I came up with what I thought was sort of a traditional one and I made that. And then I took some flavor profiles that I really liked, like cherry and hazelnut, and pistachio, and the citrus with the coriander. In today's world, you could pick any flavor profile you wanted to and create a sugarplum with it.

WERTHEIMER: Now these - do you think these sugarplums might catch on? They were obviously quite the thing, and when? Maybe like when Dickens walked the earth?

GREWELING: Definitely, 19th century and before, they were quite the thing. And will they catch on? There's no reason they shouldn't. It was not very long ago, that it was sort of a novelty when white table cloth restaurants started serving plum pudding again in the holidays. And now that's something that you see everywhere. So, you know, this is kind of similar type of thing.

WERTHEIMER: My theory about plum pudding is that came back when we learned we could make it in 10 minutes in the microwave.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREWELING: Well, you can make sugarplums in about 10 minutes with a food processor and no microwave. So, it's even a little bit easier.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much.

GREWELING: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: That's chef Peter Greweling. He is a professor at the Culinary Institute of America, and also, the author of the book "Chocolates and Confections." And for his original sugarplum recipe, look at our Web site npr.org.

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to Morning Edition from NPR News.

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