Pralines originated in France in the early 17th century, at the home of sugar industry pioneer Duke de Plessis-Praslin. One day the court chef turned his back long enough for his children to steal a supply of almonds and sugar, which they cooked up into a mess so deliciously aromatic that the cook was more inspired than angry. After some tinkering he perfected the recipe and named the new confection in honor of his employer.
Cooks in the American South adapted the recipe for new world appetites and ingredients, replacing the orginal almonds with indigenous pecans and adding cream or butter to the caramelized sugar. Where the original French pralines were individual nuts coated in crunchy sugar, American pralines contain a clutch of toasted nuts, mired in a sepia-toned burnt-sugar puddle with a creamy center and crystalline edges.
The above, somewhat abused praline was given to me by my dear friends Margaret and Bjorn, who recently visited family in the Alabama. It was a perfect Southern souvenir, a single whiff unleashing memories of childhood trips and treats.