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Wednesday, November 02, 2005 

Food Section Wednesday

The NYTimes had a lovely, heartbreaking article on New Orleans...."Pralines...seasoned with tears"

Perhaps no city in the United States has as distinctive and vital a food culture as New Orleans. The city has epitomized good eating (and hedonism in general) to several generations of Americans, and Southerners treasure it more than anyone.

"If it were not for New Orleans and
Louisiana," said John Egerton of Nashville, whose 1987 book "Southern Food" (Knopf) is considered the classic treatment of the subject, "Southern food would probably not be as revered as it is. If New Orleans doesn't come back, it will accelerate the gradual disappearance of traditional Southern food, which has already gone from a way of life to something for ceremonial occasions, at least for most people."

Several major New Orleans restaurants have reopened, some on a limited basis, including Lilette, Cuvée and Herbsaint. Frank Brigtsen, who is living temporarily in Shreveport, La., has pledged to reopen his Uptown establishment, Brigtsen's. The Brennan family, which owns Commander's Palace and nine other places, has reopened several and promised to bring them all back, but several, including Commander's, need major repairs, and the timetable remains unclear.

John T. Edge, the director of the
Southern Foodways Alliance, which runs the symposium, told me he was confident that nearly all the nationally known New Orleans restaurants would eventually reopen. What troubles him, he said, is the po' boy shops, oyster bars, red-beans-and-rice joints and other mom-and-pop businesses that have given New Orleans dining so much of its zest. Some are already gone. Uglesich's, one of the most beloved neighborhood places, closed before the storms;
Austin Leslie, the fried-chicken wizard, was evacuated after Katrina struck and died in Atlanta. - NYTimes
What IS a prahline, you may ask...
New Orleans style pralines have their origin in 18th century France. Once there lived a French Marshal and Diplomat named Cesar du Plessis-Praslin (pronounced prah-lin). His chef invented a recipe for coating almonds, in sugar to be consumed as a digestive aid. The chef named the confection pralines, after his employer. Today, the word “praline” is common throughout France and Belgium to describe any confection made with nuts.

Eighteenth century historian, Le Page du Pratz, praised the pecan and its use in “the praline…one of the delicacies of New Orleans.”

How did the praline get to America? In the days of sailing vessels when news and fashion took months to travel from Paris to New Orleans, a southern gentleman made business trips to Paris and no doubt brought back some of these delicious pralines to the head cook of his plantation. By virtue of her excellent cooking, she felt that this new confection was a challenge. So she prepared a confection that has lived through the ages. Instead of almonds, she used a Louisiana nut called a pecan and sugar made from Louisiana sugar cane. Instead of one nut she used a handful of pecans for good measure.

And...when you mention pralines in the French Quarter...most people will think of Aunt Sally's.

Pralines

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Butter the sides of a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Place the sugar, salt, and corn syrup, milk, and butter in saucepan. Over medium heat, stir mixture constantly with a wooden spoon until sugars have dissolved and mixture comes to a boil. Continue to cook to a soft ball stage, approximately 236 degrees F on a candy thermometer. If you do a cold water test, the ball of candy will flatten when you take it out of the water. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Add the vanilla and nuts, and beat with a spoon by hand for approximately 2 minutes or until candy is slightly thick and begins to lose its gloss. Quickly drop heaping tablespoons onto waxed paper. If the candy becomes stiff, add a few drops of hot water.

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