New Orleans Creamy Pralines

12.22.2020 | In Recipes

Kirstie Myvett with recipe by Chiqui Collier

Kirstie Myvett’s newly-released children’s book, Praline Lady, pays homage to her family’s history, but also to the history of the Black women of New Orleans who changed both the arc of the candy industry and the city’s cuisine. “Whenever I talked about the praline ladies,” Kirstie says, “most times people didn’t know what I was talking about!”

Kirstie drew inspiration from the #OwnVoices movement, in which the authors share an identity with their characters. “I really believe that representation matters, especially in books … I believe in writing our stories and keeping our stories going.”

Praline Lady tells the story of how Black women reinvented the French dessert, generally made with almonds or hazelnuts, by taking advantage of New Orleans’ abundance of pecan trees. “For praline ladies in particular,” Kirstie notes, “it was a way for Black women to make a living with very little startup costs because the pecans were free for the picking.” Both free and enslaved women made their signature pralines—sometimes in the kitchens of their enslavers—and sold them on the streets of the French Quarter. In this way, many were able to buy their own freedom and that of their families.

Kirstie, who works in fundraising at Xavier University of Louisiana, was raised in the 7th Ward. Praline Lady is loosely based on her own maternal grandmother, Dot, who like the titular character, owned a shotgun house in the neighborhood. Kirstie fondly recalls strolling the area near City Park with her mother and brother, gathering pecans so that her grandmother could make the sweet treat. “I can still picture her in her kitchen, ladling the mixture, plopping it on the wax paper, watching it cool, and waiting for my turn to taste it!” Kirstie laughs, remembering how her grandmother would alter the recipe for the holidays, making green and red batches with shredded coconut to mimic snow.

Kirstie still lives near her family in the 7th Ward, but “a lot of things are different.” The plentiful pecan trees of her childhood were largely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Winter no longer requires a coat to keep warm, and the storms and flooding are increasing, making her question whether the levees will hold. Though Kirstie looked to the past for inspiration when writing Praline Lady, she maintains an eye on the future. “We have to do what we can when we can to preserve the land, the marsh, and the wildlife!”

Fortunately, the tradition of praline ladies is alive and well in New Orleans thanks to women like Ronica M. Taylor of Nola Praline Boss and Rosalyn Clark of Rosalyn’s Pralines. Some of their pralines plus a copy of Praline Lady—available at the Community Book Center, Octavia Books, and other local shops—would make a holiday gift the whole family can enjoy. Or make your own pralines using Chiqui Collier’s recipe below!

New Orleans Creamy Pralines Recipe

Yields12 Servings
Total Time35 mins

Ingredients

 1 ½ cups sugar
 ¾ cup dark brown sugar
 ¾ stick butter (6 Tbsp.)
 ½ cup evaporated milk, like Carnation
 1 ½ cups pecan halves

Directions

1

Combine all ingredients over medium high heat. Using a candy thermometer, boil to the soft ball stage (235° to 245°F). Remove from heat. Stir until thickened. Spoon out onto triple thickness of buttered wax paper. Cool. Store in an airtight container.

Note from Chiqui: This is the easiest, most delicious recipe for pralines that I have ever found—make plenty of these for gifts! For a variation you can add any one of the following flavorings: 1 teaspoon maple extract, 1 teaspoon chocolate extract, 1 teaspoon rum extract. Use any broken pralines as a topping for ice cream.

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Ingredients

 1 ½ cups sugar
 ¾ cup dark brown sugar
 ¾ stick butter (6 Tbsp.)
 ½ cup evaporated milk, like Carnation
 1 ½ cups pecan halves

Directions

1

Combine all ingredients over medium high heat. Using a candy thermometer, boil to the soft ball stage (235° to 245°F). Remove from heat. Stir until thickened. Spoon out onto triple thickness of buttered wax paper. Cool. Store in an airtight container.

Note from Chiqui: This is the easiest, most delicious recipe for pralines that I have ever found—make plenty of these for gifts! For a variation you can add any one of the following flavorings: 1 teaspoon maple extract, 1 teaspoon chocolate extract, 1 teaspoon rum extract. Use any broken pralines as a topping for ice cream.

New Orleans Creamy Pralines