Friday is another long day on the road back to Florida. The time in Louisiana has been all that I hoped for—refreshing days and nights with good friends, cousins, incomparable food and the late night talk of catching up, remembering and laughing over pranks we played. There are a hundred things I'm sure will be missed in leaving Baton Rouge and its ocean of trees for the distant white sand and blue water of the Atlantic.
A fond goodbye to the patio and its redbirds, and to the splashing koi in their pond
Part of my Thursday preparations for the return to Florida included shopping for some goodies to take back for friends. Four pounds of crawfish tails on ice in the cooler, a few bags of Louisiana coffee with chicory and a box of pecan pralines for my friend with the sweet tooth.
Pralines are a traditional Louisiana sweet that folks here pronounce “praw-leen,” unlike the northern pronunciation of “pray-leen.” The origin of pralines includes various stories, probably as many as there are recipes for the sweet confection. One of the more widely-accepted versions begins in the home of a French diplomat. Legend has it that in the 1600s a chef in the diplomat’s kitchen created a sweet from almonds coated with a cooked syrupy sugar. This early confection eventually traveled with Frenchmen to their new colony on the banks of the Mississippi, a land where both sugar cane and nuts were cultivated in abundance. In local kitchens, Louisiana pecans were substituted for the more exotic almonds, cream was added to give the candy more body and a southern tradition was born.
Before the Civil War and Emancipation, selling pralines was a way of making a living for free women of color in New Orleans. The Daily Picayune offered a picturesque description of the pralinieres, or older black women, who sold pralines on the streets of the French Quarter. They were often seen selling their sweets on Canal Street near Bourbon and Royal streets, and also around Jackson Square in the shade of alleys adjacent to St Louis Cathedral. In the 1930s, Louisiana folklorist Lyle Saxon wrote in Gumbo Ya-Ya of praline sellers dressed in gingham and starched white aprons and head wraps, fanning their candies with palmetto leaves and calling out “Belles pralines!” to passersby.
Here is a simple recipe for trying your own hand at this traditional New Orleans specialty.
NEW ORLEANS PRALINES
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light cream
1 ½ cups pecans, halved
2 tablespoons butter
Combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar and cream in a heavy 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture forms a thick syrup. Add pecans and butter and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring frequently until a small dollop of the mix will form into a ball in chilled water. Remove sauce pan to a heatproof surface and let cool for 10 minutes. Use a tablespoon to drop rounded balls of the mixture onto a sheet of wax paper or foil, leaving about 3 inches between each ball for pralines to spread. There should be enough for about 12 pralines. Allow to cool.
The magnolia, Louisiana’s state flower and one of the many blooms seen along Baton Rouge streets.