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Let's Reminisce: Re-visions of sugar plums
By Jerry Lincecum
Dec 22, 2016
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What I remember most clearly from the Christmas seasons of my childhood are the special desserts and other food treats, most of them sweets made with sugar.  The problem is that now I’m diabetic (type two), and one of the keys to my staying healthy is not eating sweets. 

So the visions of fudge, divinity, pecan pie and fruitcake that I remember so vividly now have to remain mere figments of my imagination.  One of my personal favorites was the “tea cakes” my grandmother made.  She even gave me the recipe and my mother helped me make them myself. 

I also recall the year one of my cousins gave Granddaddy Jones a Whitman’s Sampler for Christmas, and he shared the chocolates with my little brother and me.  Another of our favorites was those giant candy canes that we had to break up with a hammer in order to get small pieces of peppermint candy we could suck on.

My wife remembers the candy-making that her parents engaged in only at Christmas time, such as a delicious walnut confection that required a great deal of beating by hand before it was poured out on the bare kitchen tabletop and rolled up into a log.  Her grandmother always requested a box of chocolate-covered cherries as her Christmas present.

A sugar plum, incidentally, was a piece of candy made of hardened sugar in a small round or oval shape.  According to Wikipedia, "plum" in the name of this confection did not refer to the fruit of the same name, but rather to the small size and spherical or oval shape of the candy. Sugar plums came to be widely associated with Christmas through the “Sugar Plum Fairy” in The Nutcracker and the line "Visions of sugar plums danced in their heads," from the classic poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

As a diabetic I have also become studious about nutrition, and that led me to read carefully a recent article provocatively titled “Is Sugar Killing Us,” in the Wall Street Journal.  Why is sugar bad for our health?  The short answer is that sugar, not only the crystalline form that went into most of my favorite childhood Christmas foods but also the high-fructose corn syrup so widely used in commercially produced sweets today, may be a fundamental cause of disease. 

Critically for diabetics like me, sugar (and high fructose corn syrup) plays a key role in causing a condition called “insulin resistance,” which leads to diabetes and obesity.  Most soft drinks are little more than sugar and water, with a little artificial flavor thrown in.  Fruit juices made from frozen concentrate also contain a lot of sugar, as do most breakfast cereals.  By the turn of the 21st century, the annual consumption of sugar in this country had reached an average of 150 pounds per person, and some of those pounds become permanent additions to our bodies.

Whereas during my childhood it was the special Christmas catalogs from Sears and Wards we studied, this year I’m finding my “visions” in catalogs from businesses like the Collin Street Bakery and Harry and David.  There are also plenty of TV ads from chocolate makers.  However, instead of purchasing their expensive treats, I content myself with a piece of fresh fruit or an occasional sugar-free dessert.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches older adults to write their autobiographies and family histories.  Email him at jlincecum@me.com.