Friday, March 28, 2014

Pralines and Casket Girls

I have long said that by the end of February I have become Februweary, but with winter having long worn   out its welcome, today I find my self just doesn't have the same ring, does it?  
All of my lovely roses and gardenias, planted with such care last spring, have yet to rally and it is with heavy heart I acknowledge they may not.  But, I am not going to focus on that today.  
Today we will make pralines!

I am afraid it is hard to find the definitive history of the praline, but it is widely agreed upon that they were named for the French diplomat Cesar, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin.  The actual creator was his personal chef, Clement Lassagne and many versions of how he created the recipe are often told.
Whatever the real story may be, what we do know is  the original praline was a sweet confection made of almonds and a creamy, sugary, caramelized coating.  Of course, with Praslin being the owner of the kitchen, the candy was named in his honor, but do not feel too badly for Lassagne, he eventually opened a sweet shop in France called Maison du Praslin where it still stands today.

The Ursuline nuns came to New Orleans in 1727 and were in charge of the les Filles a la Casette.  These 'casket girls', their name so derived from the small chests, known as casquettes, in which they carried their belongings, where distinguished from other women coming to New Orleans.  The casket girls were hand-picked from orphanages and convent schools and charged to the Church to be molded into ladies of high morals. It is a matter of pride to be a descendant of one of these remarkable ladies.
 But, what do casket girls have to do with pralines?  Well, the Ursuline nuns were believed to have brought the first pralines to the colonies and instructed the girls in not only being upstanding women in society and good wives, but also in the art of praline making. 

With necessity being the mother of invention, our Southern version  of the candy was created due to the short supply of almonds.  The native Louisiana pecan trees provided a tasty substitution and these new pecan pralines quickly spread throughout New Orleans.  Eventually, they would be made available by street vendors, their sale becoming a small, yet historically significant, industry in the city.

During the mid-to-late 19th century, there were few entrepreneurial opportunities for les gens de couleur libres (free people of color), but the resourceful women of that time period found a way to provide for themselves and their families.
Pralinieres sold their pralines on the streets of the French Quarter, patrolling Canal Street near Bourbon and Royal, around Jackson Square in the shade of the alleys flanking St. Louis Cathedral.  These resourceful ladies, often indentured servants or forced by need into plaçage, created a way to not only provide for themselves, but to do it without strings attached.

So, today I will step into the kitchen and combine the butter, milk, sugar, and pecans with about 400 years of history creating a lovely treat for my family. 

Southern Pralines

1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup  light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons  salted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups  pecans, roughly chopped and toasted

Before you start cooking, have all ingredients measured and parchment paper or a Silpat ready for the cooked pralines.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sauce pan, at least 4 quarts.  Do not use a smaller pan!  The syrup will bubble up during cooking.
Cook the syrup over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil.  At boiling stage you must stir constantly.  Allow syrup to boil for approximately 3 minutes until it reaches 238 degrees on a candy thermometer.

When the syrup has reached the desired temperature, remove it immediately from the heat, but continue to stir.  You will continue the stirring until the mixture thickens and becomes creamy.  As soon as you start to feel it becoming grainy it is time to drop by spoonfuls onto waiting parchment.

You must work quickly or the syrup will get too cool and will harden.  Should this happen, add 1 tablespoon of hot water at a time to the mixture until desirable consistence is reached.

Allow pralines to cook for at least 10 minutes before eating.  They are at their best within the first 24 hours, but will hold for several days in an airtight container.

Makes approximately 20 to 50 pralines, depending upon how large or small you drop them.


  1. I printed your praline recipe and hope to make some soon. Just thinking about them made my mouth water.

  2. Southern Lady, I truly hope you enjoy the praline recipe. I try not to make them very often...they are gloriously rich. Enjoy!


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