How sweet it is: Crescent City candy comes to GSO
You might call Scott Harris a ‘“Sugar Daddy.’”
That’s not to say his arms are dripping with trophy women and bling. Harris is a Sugar Daddy because the Jamestown resident has been making life in the Triad just a little bit sweeter, thanks to an old New Orleans tradition and a family recipe.
As far as candy goes, it doesn’t get more basic than the praline: sugar, nuts, butter, vanilla, water and a pinch of salt are all the raw ingredients needed to make them. But technique and variation give the traditional Southern dish a thousand subtle differences in taste, texture and appearance.
‘“There’s so many different ways [to make them],’” Harris says. ‘“People use marshmallows and honey, brown sugar, white sugar.’”
Down in Louisiana (and Alabama and Mississippi, too, a region affectionately known to some as the ‘“Bottom South’”), praline candy is the equivalent of a familial coat of arms, with recipes guarded as closely as family Bibles.
In New Orleans, the spiritual home of the candy, you can buy them at just about every gas station, wrapped in homemade packaging. Or you can get them on the street, specifically at the corner of Canal and Carondelet where for more than 30 years George Lee Clark has been hawking them from a plastic bakery tray.
Scott Harris, a born-and-raised denizen of the devastated Lower 9th Ward whose given name is Lautius Terescott Harris, picked up the craft while he still lived in New Orleans.
‘“Honestly, it was my stepdad,’” he says. ‘“He was one of those good old country boys from the Parish’” ‘— that’s New Orleans-speak for St. Bernard ‘— ‘“and he would make ’em and I would watch. He and my mom came up last Christmas. We started talking about the things we had down there and they don’t have up here and I made ’em.’”
That first Christmas batch he gave away to friends, coworkers and neighbors without thinking too much about it. His stepfather had always given them away, and as far as Harris was concerned that’s what you were supposed to do with them.
But then everybody came back asking for more.
So what was he gonna do? He fired up the Magnalite gumbo kettle ‘— ‘“You’ve got to use a good gumbo pot,’” he says, so the heat will be evenly distributed ‘— and started making some more. But this time he was too smart to give them away.
He’s sitting on the outdoor patio at PJ’s Coffee at the Palladium in High Point, pausing in his story to mop his brow with a blue washcloth he keeps in his pocket. The PJ’s chain started in New Orleans, and when Harris came to this store with his pralines they put in an order immediately. He also sells them at Debbie’s Boutique and CafÃ© Carolina and can be counted on to make a few extra batches when the Furniture Market rolls around.
‘“It was a good thing to get started,’” says Harris, who still works a 9 to 5. ‘“I’m glad people like ’em.’”
While the basic ingredients are simple to assemble, he says the technique can be tricky.
‘“You have to beat it; you have to stir it. When it’s too hot in the kitchen the candy won’t set. It’s a process with the eyes. When you do it a lot you know when it’s just right.’”
The pralines he makes are incredible, with just the right degree of firmness and a proper texture that makes them dissolve blissfully when you put them in your mouth. There’s nothing else like them in these parts.
Harris came to the Triad in the summer of 2003.
Because he moved here two years before the levees broke he did not witness the horrors firsthand. But as a native of the 9th he knows a hundred stories of survival and devastation, from his brother the fireman, who sent his family away and stayed behind to rescue people, to his neighbors who braved the first few days of the aftermath, to his own father who cut through the roof of his house with a chainsaw when the floodwaters reached their apogee and was eventually evacuated by helicopter.
‘“I sit up here and I’m talking to you and I’m catching all these flashbacks,’” he says. ‘“The city needed to be cleaned up, but that dirtiness is part of [New Orleans’] character.’”
In New Orleans Harris was a drummer for the Friendly Travelers and a tour guide on buses and swamp boats. In the Triad he’s a regular working joe, a husband and father, and an entrepreneur.
When the praline business takes off, he plans to open a po-boy shop somewhere in town modeled after Gene’s Po-Boys, an ages-old sandwich shop on the corner of Elysian Fields and St. Claude, where the menu consisted of five items: hamburger, cheeseburger, hot sausage, roast beef and ham.
Even his dreams these days are sweet.
‘“If my friends from down there could see me they’d laugh,’” he says. ‘“I never dreamed my life could be like this’… and that I’d like it.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org