Monday, February 24, 2014

More Than Tasty - A Brief History Of The New Orleans Praline, 1600s - Part 1

Blogger's Note:  The New Orleans Praline; its simple ingredients list belies the complex process and skill required, often passed down generations, to get it just right.  There are many wonderful places in the City to get 'authentic' New Orleans Pralines, but this blogger recommends to always accept the rare treat if ever offered one made by hand, the old fashioned way. 

From the University of New Orleans Graduate Thesis Reinterpreting the New Orleans Praline:

"Women commonly sold goods on the streets of New Orleans throughout the city's colonial and antebellum history. Forming a significant presence among the city‘s market places, they sold various food items which included coffee, calas, and pralines. Perhaps the most popular of the African-American street vendors was the praline women. They attracted the attention of visitors as well as residents.

Dating back to seventeenth century France, the praline was named for Marchel de Plessin-Pralin, who suffered from indigestion and ate almonds to alleviate the pain; his butler suggested that he cover the almonds with sugar. Sugar-coated almonds soon became a treat in France. The French settlers of Louisiana brought the praline with them.

 ...African-American women ... were responsible for the creolization of the praline, which continue to be sold in France as sugared almonds. African-American cooks replaced the almonds with pecans, which were abundant in New Orleans. They also added large amounts of Louisiana sugar as well as milk to thicken the candy. Therefore, the culinary genius of African-American women created the New Orleans praline, as we know it."

(Above) Photo: A statue near the historic French Market near Jackson Square honors the praline and other female food vendors who sold their hand-made delicacies on Sundays in front of Saint Louis Cathedral.

From Descriptions Of Street Vendors, Hawkers And Peddlers On The Streets Of New Orleans, Louisiana, date unknown:

 "In the afternoon, we had the praline vendor.  This peddler carried pralines of every description, but her heaviest sellers were the cocoanut (sic) pralines, either red or white and the peanut praline.  The best of her pralines, however, was the pecan praline but this was bought by the better class, as they were a little more expensive than the others." 

It was customary under Code Noir, the acting French law of the time, for the praline and calas vendors to eventually buy their freedom from slavery, with earnings saved from the sale of these hand-made delicacies.  New Orleans then, as it is today, was a proving ground for many independent women business owners.  And we may just have the Praline and Calas vendors to thank for making that possible.