In the novel of The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), Elvas plums are among the items that Vivienne Michel and her flatmate Susan Duff gather for the party they host at their tiny pad just off the King’s Road. It’s quite a feast – eighteen bottles of pink Champagne, a ten-pound tin of caviar, two (rather cheap) tins of foie gras, smoked salmon, lots of ‘garlicky things’, and of course the plums.
Elvas plums are greengage plums, traditionally from the Elvas region of Portugal, that have been boiled in syrup over several weeks, then preserved in syrup and coated with sugar. Although Vivienne Michel purchases her box of plums at the end of June, the delicacy is often consumed as a Christmas treat. It’s not for nothing that Tchaikovsky’s Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker, features a character called the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Ian Fleming’s novel isn’t the only literary appearance for the sugared fruit. It’s mentioned, for example, in ‘The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding,’ a short story by Agatha Christie, published in 1960, in which Belgian detective Hercule Poirot once again puts his little grey cells to good use.
I was bought a box of Elvas plums the other year as a Christmas present. They came from Fortnum & Mason, which I think would do very nicely for any party. Ian Fleming would approve.