I started the compilation of family recipes about six years ago. It’s not finished, but I do manage to keep transferring the document file from one computer to the next. The objectives of this particular project were three-fold: divest myself of my battered gray file box with its motley collection of scraps of stained and faded recipes, share favorite recipes with my family, and finally, satisfy my apparently unquenchable need to organize.
Currently the recipe compilation is 22 pages long. I finally tossed out the greasy old file box (circa 1970s), but I have noticed that I still can’t bear to throw away many of the scraps of paper. I’m going to try again to do so today and also share a couple of recipes with you. I’m leading off with my mother’s New Orleans Pralines.
Just two weeks ago, I braved possible interference by TSA officers to take a batch of pralines on the plane with us to the annual family meeting. Of the many, more typical, holiday treats we enjoyed as kids (e.g., pecan pie, pumpkin pie, mince pie), the most iconic for us were my mom’s pralines. Even then in our childhoods—long ago now—pralines seemed like a slightly unusual treat. What I am telling you is, if you are not afraid of hot bubbling sugar and butter, my mom’s pralines are quick, easy, delicious, and the cook gets accolades she hardly deserves for the amount of work she puts in. Here’s the recipe:
New Orleans Pralines
2C. firmly packed brown sugar
½ C. water
2 C. pecan nut meats
1/3 C. butter or margarine
Combine sugar, water, and butter.
Cook slowly stirring constantly until mixture boils
Boil slowly, stirring constantly, to 246° F (firm ball stage)
Remove from heat.
Drop by tablespoons on waxed paper, making patties 3” in diameter.
My notes: I think we had a candy thermometer and I also have used a tall glass of water to test the firm ball stage, but basically, you can tell the candy is done when the mixture begins to change from a glossy to a matte look and to thicken just slightly. Then you have to quickly spoon the mixture onto the waxed paper. If you start to drop the spoonfuls too soon, you will know because the candy doesn’t immediately start to set up. If you wait too long, the mixture could harden in the pan. If you wait just a little too long, the last few candies might have a dull consistency, but everyone enjoys those just the same.
My take away: Apparently pralines resonate with many people. I conclude that because when I typed in “pralines” in the Google search box two minutes ago, there were 784,000 hits in 0.27 seconds. Well, I love pecans, brown sugar, and butter as much as the next person, but it’s channeling my mother that makes these treats so tasty to me. About cooking and life in general, I learned many things from my mother. I learned how to cook, then peel, and oil the warm potatoes to get just the right consistency for the potato salad, I learned how to roll out pie dough, how to make smooth turkey gravy, and, of course, conjure up the pralines. What I really learned—reflecting years later—was more significant: Good work requires close concentration and a deft hand. Don’t make a big deal out of things. Keep your work surfaces uncluttered (I struggle with this). Be generous.
Bonus: In the residual pile of my mother’s recipes, I found a copy of my great aunt’s butterscotch pie written in her own hand, I am guessing at least 60 or 70 years ago. You can see it below. Now, I’m going to warm up a plate of leftover turkey, dressing, gravy, squash, and cranberry relish. I lift my fork to us all and our happy memories. Happy Thanksgiving.