Southern Voices on Pecans: Chef Lisa White, Marsh House + Killebrew Coffee

Southern Voices on Pecans: Chef Lisa White, Marsh House + Killebrew Coffee

Pecans are an iconic part of Southern cooking, so much so that they have become woven in our memory of family, place, and many a good meal. As essential to the Southern table as they were generations ago, pecans are a prized nut, so we asked some of the South’s best cooks to share their stories about this crop we are so fortunate to tend. Here is what they had to say.


By Stephanie Burt

There’s something almost mythical about pralines in New Orleans. The pecan-y, old fashioned confection has a strong cult following in the South, but in New Orleans its status reaches even beyond that. There is something about the way the scent of caramelizing sugar and pecans and the sound of large paddles or spoons scraping against copper pots that mixes with the New Orleans air and somehow fuses into the life and breath of the city.   


When Chef Lisa Marie White first visited a praline confectionary in New Orleans, the pastry chef was “simply blown away,” she recalls. “I couldn’t believe they still did it that way.” ‘That way” is completely by hand, mixing in large copper pots at just the right speed and just the right temperature so the candy comes out creamy, not grainy. Then each one is poured out to cool on large marble counters, then wrapped. It’s labor intensive, it’s time consuming, and it’s hot work, especially in New Orleans where the women she visited worked in a building where air conditioning had never been installed.


“That praline process was magical, and some of those ladies had been working there for 40 years or something,” she recalls. “It just hit me on all senses, walking into that space and seeing and smelling everything all at once.”


Lisa Marie spent years living and working in New Orleans, but she’s recently located to the Marsh House and Killebrew Coffee, located inside the ultra-chic Thompson hotel in Nashville. To bring a little of that New Orleans magic to the end of a Marsh House meal, each check is presented with one of these mini pralines.


Marsh House Pralines

Chef Lisa White, Marsh House, Nashville, TN


Chef’s note: How you know you made a perfect southern praline? It should snap when bitten and melt in your mouth.


1 lb. brown sugar

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

2 ½ c. sugar

2 ½ c. buttermilk

6 tbsp. butter

2 ½ cups pecans, roasted (makes for a crunchier nut)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. salt

Zest of ½ orange


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Spread pecans in an even layer on a cookie sheet, then bake for approximately 10 minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. Remove from oven and let cool.
  3. While pecans cool, set a large pot on medium low heat on stovetop, and add butter, sugar, milk and baking soda, stirring constantly until butter is melted, and then continuing to stir but not to the bottom, trying to keep the mixture emulsified the whole time.
  4. When all is emulsified, turn up the heat to medium, then watch for the color you want, usually a medium tan, or a soft ball candy stage at 235 degrees.
  5. Once desired color is achieved, add nuts, vanilla extract, and orange zest, stirring continually until it becomes slightly opaque with a matte finish.
  6. Remove from heat to a heatproof spot (like a trivet, old kitchen towel, etc.) on counter and wait 10 minutes, using this time to roll out parchment paper or tin foil on counter next to pot.
  7. After 10 minutes, use a cookie scooper or spoon to portion out candies, going as fast as you can. The pralines will be lumpy and set as they cool.
  8. Cool, remove from foil or paper, and store in a cool, dry location.


Servings: approximately 3 dozen

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