For locals and visitors alike, the praline is as New Orleans as the streetcar.
The Creole treat originated in 18th-century France. French diplomat Cesar du Plessis-Praslin (pronounced "prah-lin") had a sweet tooth. His chef, Clement Lassagne, invented a recipe for sugar-coated almonds to be consumed as a digestive aid.
"When the French colonized Louisiana, they brought their food traditions, including sugared almonds generally called pralins, or pralines," says Pat McDonald Fowler, granddaughter of Pierre E. Bagur and Diane Jacques Bagur, the creators of Aunt Sally's Pralines (750 St. Charles Ave.; 810 Decatur St., 800-642-7257; www.auntsallys.com). "The early French settlers taught their African-American cooks, most likely slaves, how to make those confections using locally available ingredients: pecans and cane sugar to replace almonds and beet sugar. Pralines became a delicious part of every Creole table, most often made for celebrations and holidays."
Fowler is also the company's mer-chandising and marketing consultant and former CEO. As a third-generation member of the Bagur family, she takes her role seriously.
In 1935, Pierre and Diane — both sixth-generation New Orleanians of French-Creole descent — opened their first shop on Exchange Alley in the French Quarter.
"They opened their store at a time when New Orleans was becoming a destination for visitors who were intrigued by the romantic and mysterious French Quarter," Fowler says.
The Bagurs' four children, Pierre Jr., Jacques, Diane and Yvette, also worked in the business. "They helped develop the original Creole praline recipe and boxed the pralines in a way that visitors could carry the delicate pecan candies back home in one piece and ship pralines anywhere in the world," Fowler says.
Originally, street vendors made pralines popular locally. In the mid-1800s, entrepreneurial black women sold the treat on the streets of New Orleans and found considerable success, making the praline synonymous with the city.
"Aunt Sally is a fictional character created to honor the mostly African-American praline vendors, who were often called pralinieres," Fowler says.
Today, Aunt Sally's Pralines has two locations: its French Market location, which opened in 1940, and a second retail store and production facility, which opened in 2013 on St. Charles Avenue. At both locations, customers can taste samples and watch pralines being cooked in copper pots and then hand-poured onto pans.
Aunt Sally's also sells spices, condiments and jellies, including a muffuletta mix, praline topping, pecan pepper jelly, hot sauces and savory glazes, All are available online.
Next year, Aunt Sally's Pralines celebrates its 80th anniversary.