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.

I was sad to be leaving my Granny's house that day, and snuck off for one last mill around the yard, making sure I'd plucked every flower growing, when I came upon the gigantic pecan tree in the yard of the rent house out back.  How could I possibly have overlooked this!?!  There was a wealth of pecans---and I knew they were pecans because I'd spent a few afternoons watching Gospel Jubilee and sharing pecans that my Granny had cracked, silently giggling that Granny called them peCANS (not peCAHNS) just like she pronounced VietNAM (not VietNAHM) which was a mysterious place that my uncle was visiting, often spoken of in ominous, hushed tones, and most every evening,  by David Brinkley on the nightly news.

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.


10 comments:

  1. What a lovely and sweet story Maggie. Pralines remind me of my Grandmother as well. I was the official pecan cracker when I was a child. My job was to crack, shell and clean the pecans for my Grandmother so she could make pralines. I have to admit, I was eating more pecans than were going into a bowl for her pralines. I remember breaking out in a horrible rash. When my Mother picked me up from my Grandparents house I was red from head to toe!

    I'm looking forward to trying your praline recipe. I'm sure it will bring back memories of my Grandmother.

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    1. I hope, one day, maybe it will be many, many years from now, I'll be the Grandmother of someone's memories! I sure had great models from my own.

      Hope you're enjoying a happy, happy holiday season, Steph!

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  2. Maggie - I always learn a little more about you in your posts, and always leave liking you a little more. Reading this I discovered that we have two more things in common - a link to Oklahoma, where I was born and from which my family migrated to Texas when I was 3 (something that was more difficult than it sounds since my parents are both dyed in the wool Okies and Sooners - they're still getting over the fact that my family now lives in Austin) and grannies who made chocolate gravy, something I would also have endured a lecture to enjoy in my younger days.
    You are a wonderful storyteller, Maggie, and I'm happy to have met you.

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    1. Girl, I have an Austin-living Dad who is a Sooner fan through-and-through. He gets a ribbing and well as he gives around here! I can't believe your Granny made chocolate gravy! I hear of it so rarely.

      Thank you so much for your kind words, and mostly, for your friendship. You are a treasure!

      Love,
      Maggie

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  3. OK, we need to hear all about the Chocolate Gravy! Sweet story. Your grandma knew how to be loving.

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    1. Ok, I promise I'll post that recipe soon. It's kind of like a mole, but without any spice or sass...just rich gooooodness.

      Thank you so much for dropping in and leaving a comment Sheldun. And thank you for your kind words for my granny, too.

      Happy Holidays!
      Maggie

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  4. I hope you-all have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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  5. Oh my! I can taste those pecan pralines--and Grandma Ruth's "Aunt Bell's Candy," her yummy peanut brittle--You have created a Time Machine which transports me back to my childhood--Gliding on her front porch, cousins dashing about the yard--The little house in back, with a garden behind it where Grandma spent many days, shading herself from the hot OK sun. I remember the "storm cellar"--a truly magical place--the back porch, crammed with treasures--You have captured her perfectly! I I remember "playing horsey" on Grandpa's lap--he passed away when I was 7; I remember being allowed to go to the service, sitting in the family room--and Grandma's strength in raising the 3 young sons. Thank you for bringing back so brilliantly the place, the smells, the tastes of my youth, of my dear Grandma. --from one of 'Nita's girls, Phyllis

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    1. Oh Phyllis, thank you so much for your kind comments. I did not get to know your Grandpa-- I sure wish I could have, and now I'm interested in HIS story. lol I'm so happy to reconnect with my cousins.

      My best,
      Maggie

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