12 Days of Holiday Cookies
Ruthie's Pecan Pralines
I am honored, and delighted to be included in Local Savour's 12 Days of Holiday Cookies, and find myself in fine company as the gracious and elegant Elizabeth features some of my favorite blogging friends. Please do yourself the favor of visiting her lovely blog, and see all the goodies shared.
I am most fortunate to be included in the vibrant community in which we write, and eat, and share our lives.
While not technically a cookie per se, Elizabeth allowed me to contribute one of my favorite holiday treats.
Pralines, that's prahleens to some of you and prayleens, to others are a southern holiday staple, and versions can be found as they are in New Orleans and surrounding parts, golden and chewy, or crisp and opaque, like you'll find crowded around the cashier stand in many Tex-Mex restaurants. I've taken liberties here, a crisp version adapted from a recipe for Mexican Pralines, substituting Lyle's Golden Syrup for corn syrup, adding a little half and half, a little more butter, a little less water, and a hint of warm spiciness. I've never been much for leaving well enough alone.
These pralines, and all the other versions I've tried over the years at Christmas, are prepared in honor of the memory of my Granny Ruthie. You'll find the recipe at the bottom of this story. It's a long one, and if you're short on time, perhaps you can save it for another day--maybe a quiet morning. With a warm cup of coffee. And a praline. And maybe a hankie.
Famously fastidious, my mother was due to pick us up from our Granny Ruth's, or Ruthie, as her family affectionately called her, within the hour, and we had been scrubbed and polished and starched to perfection. Granny, who, if we're being technical, was actually our step-grandmother, yet never treated us with any less love and affection than any of her grandchildren, had entertained us while our parents we're on some kind of no-children-allowed venture. Upon our arrival there, we soon forgot being left behind because there were adventures to be had! Corners to explore! Why, there was a whole HOUSE in Granny's backyard, and a door that went down into the ground--something called a cellar, which we'd only seen in The Wizard of Oz, and about which we'd always been so curious.
She also had two front doors, though only one of them had easy access. She had a glider on the front porch, she didn't drive a car, her neighborhood was what we called downtown, there were sidewalks, and an ice cream man that pedaled his cart and announced his presence with no more than a bicycle bell. To my childlike-self, it was different. It was wonderful.
Granny wore knee-high stockings settled in a roll around her ankles, sturdy black lace-up shoes, and soft cotton calico house dresses. She made roses of egg carton-cup petals stuck into a styrofoam ball with tiny pushpins, necklaces of paperclips and contact paper, crosses of yarn and spent matchsticks, homemade biscuits with chocolate gravy, and salad dressing that you couldn't buy at the store. She was round and soft and had a gentle way of giggling when in the company of her family which included seven sons and a daughter, their families, including a passel of grandchildren, of which I delightedly was one. We loved bathing in her big clawfoot tub, with the smell-good soap, which she used to shampoo our tow-heads as well as scrub our grubby limbs.
But about the pecans.
What a find! I couldn't wait to see the look on Granny's face when I showed her my treasure! I pulled up the spic and span skirt of my dress, and filled it to brimming with the pecans that veritably littered the ground. What LUCK! I eagerly scuttled back to the house, fully enveloped in my awesomeness as a young and plucky forager.
Alas, I was mistaken. I was not met with glee. The look on Granny's face was not quite what I was hoping. In fact, I'd never seen this look. Nor heard this tone of voice. Horrified, I think you'd call it. And I think I came close to getting the only full-fledged spanking I would ever receive from Granny, though she did land a few swats to my skinny legs. I had lost my magical favor. I was...she said....a mess.
And my mother was pulling into the driveway.
Well, it took a lot of years before we laughed about it. A few years for Granny and the family. A few many more for me. Because every time the family gathered, it seemed, the old stories came out, and I was the key player in at least this one.
Y'all. It kinda wore on my laughter-frayed nerves.
Several years later, not really several enough mind you, I was off to the airport, leaving my family in Oklahoma, returning to Louisiana for an ill-advised young marriage to a 'Cajun hooligan', as he was called by a few. My last stop was breakfast at Granny's-- her biscuits and chocolate gravy at my request. No one was very happy with the headstrong young bride, and I suspected I might be entering a trap--a lecture like I'd received from many others. But chocolate gravy. I'd suffer for that.
However there was no lecture, no suffering. There was soft laughter, and compassion, and a new intimacy that took me, tearfully by tender surprise. Granny gave me a quilt she'd made, told me to open it later, gave me a hug. She told me she'd been a young bride, and that they'd made it work, and she knew we could, too. She thought he was a 'funny little fella' and said when two people were in love, and couldn't be apart, you might as well let them be. And love them.
I learned more about love that morning than I'd experience over the next few years. It was as difficult as they'd all said it would be, though fiercely proud, I never let on (and to my family's credit, in love and grace, never was there, nor ever has been uttered I told you so). As I had done the love of my family, I tucked Granny's kindness into my heart, and the memory of it, and the soft down of that handmade quilt, comforted and sustained me through scary and lonely and tearful times.
That day, back when I was a youthful bride-to-be, and the future was so bright, I arrived in Louisiana, and finally found a moment to tear into the package she'd given me. Tucked in the layers of the fluffy quilt, which smelled sweetly of Granny, I found a recipe cut from a newspaper, yellowed from age, fraying at the folded crease. A recipe for Pecan Pralines. In her scratchy handwriting, across the top, it read...
To My Pecan Girl.
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch, each, of cayenne pepper, and kosher salt
1 tbsp. Lyle's Golden Syrup
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 tbsp. half and half
3 tbsp. water
2 c. pecans, halves or pieces
In two quart saucepan, combine sugar, spices, syrup, butter, and half, and water. Bring to a boil. Add nuts and return to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium, and continue until candy reaches soft ball stage or 238 degrees. Remove from heat and stir rapidly until mixture begins to lose its gloss.
Quickly drop candy from tablespoon onto waxed paper and allow to harden. Makes about 24 small pralines, or 6 gigantic, sprawling, good-for-the-pause-that-refreshes, too-large-to-dunk-in-your-cup-of-afternoon-coffee, just-this-side-of-tummy-ache-sized holiday delights.