In New Orleans, we call it” Pecan Candy,” you may know of it as “Pralines,” but whatever you call it, it’s my favorite sweet treat. Pecan Candy is deliciously addictive. After your first bite into a creamy, sweet, and nutty piece of pecan candy, you will be hooked. But, like Lay’s potato chips, you can’t eat just one piece of Pecan Candy.
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 various recipes as a teenager, and the result varied from sticky taffy-like candy or a hard brittle. She ate it no matter what, always complimenting 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, you were out of luck. That pecan candy had us waking up out of our sleep to get a piece. As I said, 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!”
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.” So 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 hot enough to cause a third-degree burn, and I have burned my tongue plenty of times.
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 shorter than my grandfather) backyard picking up pecans with my cousins. The more of the little we gathered meant pecan candy. I often found 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 that I would crack the nuts open with my teeth like a squirrel. Yes, my teeth are on the left-back molars. The other was placing two pecans in your palm and squeezing them together, which took strength. Once we cleared the yard of pecans, we would get sticks to knock some from the branches. We had 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 pecan hunting, tossing the pecans in the bucket, and making pecan tree pinatas. We were a creative bunch.
We collected more than enough, and my Momo (my grandmother) would bag 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. The plan for using the nuts to make pecan candy often 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, a towel, and a bowl to put the meat in. The right wack to the pecan would result in cracking it up in the middle, leaving two perfect pecan halves, as you find at the store. Whoever accomplished this was given the Queen of Pecans’ title, and the prize was the spoon and pot after the candy sat in little circles on the buttered tabletop. 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.
Mrs. Altia “Momo” Nora Pecan Candy
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 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; supposedly, Pecan Candy is cooked up creamier during the winter. It’s possible this timeframe came about because pecan was harvested during this time. However, old-school cooks swear the weather matters. But to be safe, if the weather is hot and humid, I cook the candy a little past the softball stage and have the air conditioner on.
How to Make It
Bring sugars and milk to a boil in a heavy pot, stirring often. Place a cup of water in the freezer for the cold water drop test to check for consistency. Cook over medium heat, frequently stirring, for 11 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 228° (thread stage).
Stir in butter and pecans; cook, constantly stirring, until candy thermometer registers 235° (softball stage). To test for the soft-ball stage, get the cold water cup from the freezer, drop a bit of candy into the cup, reach into the cup with your finger and push the candy around into a ball. If it shapes and stays, then it’s ready. If not, cook a little more, keeping a close eye on the temperature. DO NOT PASS 236, or they will not be the right texture and consistency.
Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Beat with a wooden spoon for 1 to 2 minutes or just until the mixture begins to thicken. Quickly drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto buttered marble countertop/slab, foil, wax paper, or parchment paper; let stand until firm.
THESE PICTURES REFLECT MY TRIP TO MINNESOTA, AND I DIDN’T HAVE MY MAGNALITE POT, BUT IT CAME OUT AS IT NORMALLY WOULD. I HAD TO BABYSIT THE POT TO AVOID BURNING MY CANDY.
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.