In New Orleans, we call it ”Pecan Candy,” but you may know of it as “Pralines,” but whatever it’s called it’s one of the best confections I ever ate. If you never bit into a creamy, nutty piece of pecan candy, you have been missing a delicious treat!
One of my favorite memories was being in my Big Momo (great grandmother) and Lil Papa (great grandfather, we called him Lil, because he was a small man, especially my grandfather) backyard picking up pecans with my cousins. The more of the little we gathered meant pecan candy. I would often find myself using the one for you, one for my method, because I was nutty for pecans. The children couldn’t use the one treasured nutcracker outside, so like a squirrel, I would crack the nuts open with my teeth. Yes, my teeth, on the left-back molars. The other was placing two pecans in your palm and squeezing them together, and that took strength. Once we cleared the yard of pecans, we would get sticks to knock some from the branches. We had to make sure to avoid hitting down the pecans that weren’t ripe. Pecan nuts on the tree are contained in their shells in an outer husk or hull. This hull is green, and you’ll see hulls in clusters among the tree’s branches. Pecans are ready for harvest when the green hulls split open on the tree, dropping the nuts in their shells to the ground. We enjoyed our time of pecan hunting, toss the pecans in the bucket and pecan tree pinata. We were a creative bunch.
We collected more than enough, and my Momo (my grandmother) would bag up the nuts for us to take home. My Mama put ours in a basket on the dining room table, leaving them at risk of being eaten. Often, the plan for using the nuts to make pecan candy went out the window because we ate most of them. I can hear my Mama telling us, “Don’t eat all the pecans, because we have to make candy,” but she would dig in the basket. We would sit at the kitchen table with the pecans, a hammer, towel, and a bowl to put the meat in. With the right wack to the pecan would result in cracking it right up the middle, leaving two perfect pecan halves as you find at the store. Whoever accomplished this was given Queen of Pecans’ title, and the prize was the spoon and pot after the candy was scooped out. You may be wondering what the deal with the pot and spoon is? Once all the candy is spooned out and cooling, the spoon and pot will have candy left just like cake batter in a bowl. And having that pot and spoon will help you from burning your mouth on hot candy because the hot candy will call for you to eat it while it’s hot, causing you to but your tongue. The candy can be cool to the touch but burning hot in the center.
I was about six years old when I started helping with making candy, and my Mama would tell me to this day,” Be careful because that candy will burn a hole through you. Don’t eat that candy till it’s cooled completely; you will burn your tongue.” Over the years, I would envision a hole in my palm and made sure to put an oven mitt on while scooping. Now, the candy is very hot, hot enough to cause a third-degree burn, and I have burned my tongue plenty of times.
I have so many memories of making pecan candy with the women in my family, unsure whether that’s good or bad speaking as in calories, lol. My Momo would allow me to test out various recipes as a teenager, and the result varied from gummy taffy-like from using imitation vanilla to hard brittle from overcooking. She ate it no matter what, always complimenting on my flavor. When it would come out sticky, she would pop it in the freezer and say, “Umm-hmm, it’s good like this. It’s a chewy caramel pecan candy.” And when it came out perfect, let’s say if you weren’t there or came over before noon the next day, then you were out of luck. That pecan candy had us getting up out of our sleep to get a piece…It’s addictive.
From gathering the pecans in my Big Momo backyard in Kenner to that first delicious creamy, nutty bite, pecan candy has a special place in my heart. I enjoy seeing the looks on my girl’s faces as they hover over the table, licking their lips, asking, “Are they cool enough yet!” Sweet memories…
Here’s my Momo recipe. I hope to make it will put a smile on your face and touch your heart as you stand and stir.
I highly suggest using a candy monitor, a heavy pot ( I prefer a Magnalite pot), but a Dutch oven will do, and a wooden spoon. Vanilla is essential, DO NOT use Imitation Vanilla; it will add water to your candy. I like Madagascar Vanilla, or you may use a good Bourbon or Whiskey too.
Candy is traditionally made during the holidays, cool weather season, and for some reason, the old school cooks swear the weather matters. So, if the weather is humid, you may need to cook the pralines a little past the soft-ball stage.
Mrs. Altia “Momo” Nora Pecan Candy Recipe
Pecan Candy History
French settlers brought the recipe to Louisiana, where both sugar cane and pecan trees were plentiful. During the 19th century, New Orleans chefs substituted pecans for almonds, added cream to thicken the confection, and thus created what became known throughout the American South as the praline.
Pralines have a creamy consistency, similar to fudge. They are usually made by combining sugar (often brown), butter, cream or buttermilk, and pecans in a pot over medium-high heat and constantly stirring until most of the water has evaporated and it has reached a thick texture with a brown color. This is usually dropped by spoonfuls onto wax paper or a sheet of aluminum foil greased with butter and left to cool.