Before I tell you how to make pralines, I think I owe you the story behind the recipe. Every year for Christmas my dad would make these wonderful pecan pralines. It was a huge deal at our house. Everyone pitched in to pick and shell the pecans. Where there were enough for pecan candy, as my dad called it, he would put the big black iron pot on the stove and begin pouring in all sorts of sugars and butter and canned milk. Then the stirring began.
We each took a turn at stirring, but now I realize that it was allowed only so we felt that we were a part of the process. The candy in the pot is cooked at boiling temperatures and should it splash or splatter on hands and arms, it continues to cook and burn until cold water washes it off. That never really happened, but even now when I make pecan candy I realize the dangers of allowing little ones near the stove. Still, it was a family event, so daddy picked up each of us in turn and allowed us to stir. We'd give a big effort of stirring the pot of bubbling sugars, grunting or squealing with delight. He'd set that daughter down and pick up the next one, each in turn so that everyone had a chance to stir.
Today, the photo opportunities begin with the ladling so that Facebook friends and family can see the good fortune. Oftentimes, as sisters grew up and joined the service, their candy was bagged while still warm to insure that their care packages included the candy. Now that grandchildren are away at college or stationed in some remote area as military personnel, we make candy to ship to them. Over the years we've sent pecan candy to Germany, Iraq, Turkey, Afganistan, Guam, and all over the U.S. And those are the places I can think of easily. I'm fairly sure that mom and dad have sent candy and care packages to other countries with five daughters, as many sons-in-law and even more grandsons in the military at some point in time.
So, mix up a batch of pecan candy, but get everyone in the house involved with the stirring. You'll be glad for the assistance, and they'll have one more family memory to share.
Bourque Family Pecan Pralines
1 stick butter or margarine
3 cups white sugar
2 cups brown sugar (packed)
2 cans evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pound pecans (chopped, whole, or ground)
Melt butter in heavy pot or dutch oven. Add sugars and evaporated milk and cook at low to medium heat until reduced to thick syrup. Stir continuously to keep from sticking to pan or burning. May take 45 to a hour. Use a candy thermometer, if necessary, to register between soft ball stage and hard ball stage, or drop teaspoon of syrup into cup of cold water. At soft ball stage the syrup will roll up between your fingers when you handle it in the water. At hard ball stage the syrup will clump up in the water and easily roll into a ball between your fingers. As you become more adept at making the candy, you will be better able to tell the correct stage. When at the soft ball stage, add vanilla and stir quickly. Within a few minutes add the pecans and continue to stir until all pecans are coated. Drop by tablespoons onto wax paper to cool. Get a partner to help drop the candy onto the papers as it is crucial that it all be dropped before cooling in the pot. If this happens, you can reheat the pot and candy to melt the sugars, but candy will be harder upon cooling.
If you give this recipe a try, let me know how it works for you. If you have a different recipe for making pralines, feel free to share it. I have about four recipes all of which I do make, but this one is my family's favorite. I'll share the others at another time.