By guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes
NEW ORLEANS -- Some foodstuffs come with stories that are as nourishing as a meal. In this economy, tales of unanticipated success are particularly welcome.
Twenty years ago, Loretta Harrison was a medical librarian at Louisiana State University. Then, she learned that Jazzfest needed someone to make New Orleans' most famous candy, pralines. Harrison made a few batches from a family recipe -- and cooked a new life for herself.
In two days at the festival, Harrison and her pralines pulled far more than she was earning in the university library. She shelved the bookish life and opened Loretta's Authentic Pralines, 2101 N. Rampart. When the store's door opened, Harrison became the first black woman to have her own candy company in New Orleans.
Harrison's a born sharer. Come into her store and choose your fill of pralines, cookies and cake, and she's likely to give you the one thing you missed ... just to try. That's kitchen wisdom for you: Sit, rest, eat. People do, and return to do so again and again.
You can get Harrison's well-gotten goods in NoLa or online. If she has her way, before much more time has passed, she'll be on TV and you'll be able to buy her food from a national network.
Harrison worked hard to make her pralines a success story, and she doesn't divulge her recipe. She is, however, happy to provide an insight into what makes a good praline: butter - real butter - and love.
Can you taste the love? Harrison glows, not only from the heat of the kitchen, and purrs, "Oh, yes."
Milk and butter can be had at Chicago's Green City Market. So can one more vital ingredient of a New Orleans praline. Lyle Allen, the Market's executive director says, "We just brought in pecans this year, from Three Sisters - and the pecans are the size of your thumb."
If you're using pecans that big, then your pralines are going to be as generous as Loretta Harrison's heart - and life will be sweet indeed.
MAKES APPROXIMATELY 24 PRALINES, DEPENDING ON SIZE
3 cups light brown sugar, lightly packed
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¼ cups pecan halves
Combine sugar, cream of tartar, salt and milk in a heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Cook to 238 degrees or until mixture forms a soft ball when dropped in a cup of cool water. Cool to 220 degrees. (soft ball stage). Add butter, vanilla and pecans. Beat until creamy.
Drop from a large spoon onto wax paper or a buttered baking sheet. Wrap individually. Store in an airtight container.