Pecan pralines are a confection made by caramelizing sugar with milk, pecans and butter until firm to create a sweet and creamy treat that practically melts as it is consumed. The candy is one of the many staples of New Orleans tradition and culture sought after by tourists and locals alike. Just like good seafood gumbo or crawfish étouffée, the best pralines are found in the kitchens of locals using generations-old family recipes. However, the origins of the pecan praline is believed to have started in France but perfected by African-American cooks.
In France, the chef of César, duc de Choiseul, comte du Plessis-Praslin coated almonds with sugar. It is rumored that the treat was used by the duke to woo his many love interests. Thus, the praline and its name, derived from Plessis-Praslin, was born. The French praline was very similar to Bavarian Nuts and brought to Louisiana by French Settlers.
Enslaved African-American cooks learned the recipe while laboring in the French colonists’ kitchens. In these kitchens, their culinary brilliance transformed the French treat by replacing the almonds with pecans and adding milk to create the praline we see today.
In fact, the pecan praline is believed to be one of the earliest American street foods, allowing emancipated African-American women a means to earn an income. Praline vendors could be found throughout New Orleans, often congregating near Jackson Square. These women are credited with ensuring that this tradition has endured.