June 24th is another sweet foodie holiday because it’s National Pralines Day. Some call them prah-leen, others pray-leen. I think we can all agree to call them delicious.
I was never really a sweets a sweets fan, but when I first moved to New Orleans my mother introduced me to pralines and after one taste I was immediately converted. Every Sunday after mass, we’d drive to the city center to enjoy brunch, watch the people, or take a walk in the French Quarter in search of something new and exciting.
Of course there are numerous antique shops, bars, and souvenir shops in the Quarter along with plentiful street entertainment, but my all-time favorite activity was to visit any shop that sold pralines. The caramel buttery mixture wrapped around Louisiana pecans is extraordinary.
I’m used to the Creole-style recipe which became known to Louisianans when southern gentlemen made their way home from Paris with sweet pralines as gifts for the plantation head cook.
The ingenious plantation cooks replicated the recipe but substituted the single almond which were used in the French praline recipe with several pecans, and added a touch of cream to the butter-sugar mixture to blend the flavors. So for me, a true praline is a pecan praline and it had better be from New Orleans!
Pralines gave freed black women entrepreneurial opportunities
Near the mid-1800s hardly anyone especially women had an opportunity to make money, let alone sellers les gens de couleur libres (free people of color) in New Orleans. Some entrepreneurial-minded black women of the area became successful selling the sweet treats on the streets. The street vendors or Pralinieres as they were called took advantage of the unique opportunity to support their families by selling Creole pralines.
At that time New Orleans was a thriving port city and many people from all over the world came to New Orleans to venture to the rest of the United States. The visitors took along with them the sights and sounds of New Orleans including the sweet pralines sold by Pralinieres who unknowingly made them world-famous which may have contributed to National Pralines Day.
Authentic New Orleans pralines
A true New Orleans praline is poured by hand from a copper kettle. It should not only contain pecans but have a balance of caramelized sugar, milk fat, a hint of vanilla, and a tender crunch. Most importantly, the pecans need be well-toasted to obtain the maximum flavor and crunch to the candy.
There are plenty of praline recipes on the internet if you’d like to try making them at home. Since I live in Germany, pecans are outrageously expensive and my frozen Louisiana stash of them has run out. That means I’ll have to live vicariously through you as you tenderly bite into the caramel sweetness.
So today, on National Pralines Day, take a break and enjoy an authentic New Orleans praline or any for that matter.