I never liked Fig Newtons. They were nothing more than sad excuses for cookies that looked like tar folded into cardboard strips. They weren’t just unappealing, they were downright annoying, taking up valuable space in the cookie cupboard. How I longed to run them down with a box of Wagon Wheels. Although my Mother always told me you can’t judge a book by its cover, I knew how to judge a cookie by its filling. And figs weren’t going to be filling me anytime soon. You see, the chewy, grainy fig has the unfortunate curse of premature aging. Fresh figs are things of fleeting beauty, quickly fading within a couple of days of being plucked from their perch. Like we humans, once they age and are dried out, figs appear withered and old with their thin, colourful skin turning weathered and leathery. Inside and out, dried figs are not a pretty sight to behold by anyone of any age, particularly a six-year-old picky eater. While I’ve long since reconciled my unfounded distaste for figs, I hadn’t really celebrated them in the way they rightly deserved. But that was about to change... Along with countless thousands of children, I commemorated each Christmas with a reading of Clement Clarke Moore’s famed poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” My childhood book of this verse with its inspired line of ‘visions of sugarplums’ dancing in children’s heads featured an illustration of two inedible smiling stars with flailing limbs hovering above the children’s bed. I often wondered, but never knew, just what a sugarplum really was. While researching traditional Christmas recipes, I recently discovered that sugarplums aren’t just plums, but many dried fruits, chopped and mixed with nuts and spices. I remembered that my brother used to make a similar treat with dates only he called them… date balls. Here I had been enjoying chewy, sweet sugarplums all along, but without that magical moniker, they were never dancing in my dreams. So what better way than to pass a tradition along to my children, while honouring the sweetest and oldest of fruits? I decided figs would be the featured fruit in my sugarplums, blending them with raisins, cinnamon, allspice, coriander and a couple drops of liquid Chai Tea mix. I rolled the fig mixture into little balls and then into three types of sugar – white granulated, yellow and powdered. My sugarplums are just one version of many visions. Other recipes include nuts, mixed peel, cocoa, and orange and lemon zest. Later in the day, when my daughter came inside from test-driving her new crazy carpet, grumbling that her frostbitten hands made it impossible for her to take off her snowsuit, I silenced her discontent with one simple, enchanting question. “Would you like to try a sugarplum?” As she sat in front of the fireplace, warming her little fingers and toes, her “frostbite” was long forgotten as she gobbled up every last sugarplum, leaving none for her little brother. Did she care that they are a good source of plant calcium, fibre and potassium? Does she even know what that means? No, she didn’t give a fig. But I do, and hope others will take on the tradition to inspire visions of this whimsical delight. Happy Christmas to all!
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