• By Julie Stefanski
  • In 2018
  • December 4, 2018

Traditional Holiday Sweets

By Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN


“The children were nestled all snug in their beds while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads”  Twas the Night Before Christmas, Clement Moore

You may think this post about traditional holiday sweets is going to be about holiday cakes, cookies, and candy, but if you look through history and talk to people from other countries you’ll find that fruit, or a dish made with fruit, was the sweet treat traditionally given or served during the holiday season.  Many people still incorporate these naturally sweet treats into their celebrations and traditions.


Oranges:  One of my vivid memories growing up is always finding an orange or clementine in the toe of my stocking each Christmas morning.  I used to think that it was just my family that had that tradition but later learned that it’s a long-standing Christmas tradition for many North American and European households. The orange may represent gold or wealth to come.  Some also believe the segments of the orange represent the gifts we have to give each other.  Or, it may have a much simpler meaning – fruit was not readily available in the winter months and an orange was a delicious treat!


Plum pudding:  Or often known as “Christmas pudding” is an old English tradition that dates back to Medieval times.  Beef suet, meat, and fruits were combined with soft breadcrumbs and spices including cinnamon and cloves.  The pudding was tied in a cloth and boiled for hours and served with a rum butter sauce.


Mincemeat Pie: This fruit and spice pie that is served today only mildly resembles the original mince pies.  These pies were made with minced mutton, fruit, and three spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves) representing the 3 gifts of the Magi.  Over time, meat was replaced with a mixture of dried and fresh fruit along with the traditional spices.


Fruitcake: Of course, we cannot forget the object of many jokes at holiday parties and gift exchanges – the fruitcake.  While the dense, dried fruit and nut cake is what most people think of, there are a number of delicious variations of a fruitcake including German Stolen, the Italian Panaforte, and the Caribbean rum soaked Black Cake.


Which brings me to Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” where we hear about sugarplums.  I was all set to start this article about how sugarplums were one of the traditional fruits found on Christmas, and while sugarplums were a traditional dessert for the wealthy, they are not fruit!  No, they started as a spice, coated in sugar and rolled into a plum like shape – but not a fruit could be found inside!  Today, they are just hard sugary candy, in an oval shape.


Ah well, a variety of sweets including fruit and our more common cookies, candy and cakes are all an important part of the season!  This year see if you can include a little of each into your celebrations.  These little fruit tarts are a nice way to combine both!


Holiday Fruit Tarts


½ cup small dice dried pears

¼ cup diced figs

¼ cup diced dates

¼ cup raisins

2 Tbsp. dried cranberries

¼ cup whiskey

½  cup chopped walnuts

1Tbsp. orange zest (~ 1 orange)

3 Tbsp. fresh orange juice

1 apple peeled, cored and diced (tart apple like Granny Smith)

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

2 Tbsp. butter, cut into dices


1, 9- inch piecrust




  1. Mix pears, figs, dates, raisins and cranberries in medium bowl. Add whiskey and toss.  Allow to sit, tossing periodically for 4 – 8 hours.


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Roll piecrust into ~11 inch round.  Cut 6, 5-1/2 inch circles out and gently place in 4-inch tart ( or individual pie tins).  Prick all over with a fork.  Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.


  1. While shells cool, mix walnuts, orange zest, juice, apple, spices, and sugar into the dried fruit mix. Mix thoroughly.


  1. Fill shells evenly with fruit filling. Dot each tart with 4-6 dices of butter. Bake in 425°F oven for 10 – 15 minutes until just warm.  Serve warm, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN is a food and nutrition communications professional, recipe developer and brand ambassador for the StarKist Co. She loves learning about food, exploring how food has shaped our culture, and teaching people how to enjoy the food they eat. On weekends she can be found exploring local food shops, wineries, and walking trails with her husband.  You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @LauraAli_RD