Thursday 23 December 2010

A feast of Sugar Plums

At last I have a box of Elvas Plums for Christmas.
I found them on a tiny stall in Borough Market 
with jars of chestnut honey.
They are actually greengages;
the original sugar plum after which 
The Nutcracker's fairy was named.
Agatha Christie was said to be very fond of them 
and they get at least one mention in this Hercule Poirot tale -
here is her Foreword and an extract:

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is an indulgence of my own, 
since it recalls to me, very pleasurably, 
the Christmases of my youth. 
After my father's death, my mother and I always spent Christmas 
with my brother-in-law's family in the north of England - 
and what superb Christmases they were for a child to remember! 
Abney Hall had everything! 
The garden boasted a waterfall, a stream, 
and a tunnel under the drive! 
The Christmas fare was of gargantuan proportions. 
I was a skinny child, appearing delicate, 
but actually of robust health and perpetually hungry! 
The boys of the family and I used 
to vie with each other as to who could eat most on Christmas Day. 
Oyster Soup and Turbot went down without undue zest, 
but then came Roast Turkey, Boiled Turkey and an enormous 
Sirloin of Beef. The boys and I had two helpings of all three!
 We then had Plum Pudding, 
Mince-pies, Trifle and every kind of dessert.
 During the afternoon we ate chocolates solidly. 
We neither felt, nor were, sick! 
How lovely to be eleven years old and greedy! 
What a day of delight from "Stockings" in bed in the morning, 
Church and all the Christmas 
hymns, Christmas dinner, Presents,
 and the final Lighting of the Christmas Tree! 
And how deep my gratitude to the kind and hospitable hostess 
who must have worked so hard 
to make Christmas Day a wonderful memory to me 
still in my old age. 
So let me dedicate this book to the memory of Abney Hall
 its kindness and its hospitality. 
And a happy Christmas to all who read this book. 

 The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie (1960) 

Nothing could be more old-fashioned than we are! 
My husband, you know, absolutely lives in the past.
He likes everything to be just as it was when he was 
a boy of twelve years old, 
and used to come here for his holidays." 
She smiled to herself. 
"All the same old things, the Christmas tree 
and the stockings hung up and the oyster soup 
and the turkey - two turkeys, 
one boiled and one roast -
and the plum pudding with the ring and the 
bachelor's button and all the rest of it in it. 
One can't have sixpences nowadays because 
they're not pure silver any more. 
But all the old desserts, the Elvas plums 
and Carlsbad plums and almonds and raisins, 
and crystallised fruit and ginger. 
Dear me, I sound like a catalogue 
from Fortnum and Mason!"
"You arouse my gastronomic juices, Madame."


  1. That dancer's feet! I have goosebumps. Thank you for this treat. And that Agatha Christie memory is wonderful, too. I read a lovely book by Rumer Godden called The Greengage Summer, my introduction to that variety of plum.

  2. I appreciate these literary references to traditional English delicacies. Sugar plums now have a visual connection for me.

  3. What a fascinating post Lucille.......... and strangely enough I read The Greengage Summer too and greengages fascinated me. We planted a greengage tree here when we moved in 10 years ago and it has finally grown tall enough for it to throw some shade. Can't wait to sit under it next summer. I hadn't realised that sugar plums were actually greengages. Have a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones.

  4. Oh, you've set me off now - I've never eaten a sugar plum, and I do so want one! Happy Christmas.