The Scent of Autumn
Autumn is in the air and nothing responds to that fresh air under crystal skies like the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen. Come to think of it, frying bacon has seemed like a worthy response to change in many seasons of my life. Standing at the stove to prepare something of substance, something to satisfy the senses as well as your hunger, can have a steadying effect in the face of turmoil. It’s the calm of repetition, of doing something you’ve done a thousand times before, something that requires tending with your physical presence but lets your mind wander while the bacon sings and pops in the skillet like the murmur of a comforting voice.
We don’t eat bacon like we used to. Cautioned by warnings about the hazards of nitrates, salt and cholesterol, among others, I cook it only rarely these days. Still its distinctive flavor and hearty aroma inspire fond memories. For that reason I enjoy recipes that add just a touch of bacon, enough to give me reason to cook it and savor a few bites without overindulging.
Just a Taste of Bacon
In this recipe I use bacon to flavor a favorite take-along dessert. Pralines are a family favorite thanks to a great recipe I found years ago in a Southern Living annual cookbook that Aunt Hen gave me. The great thing about these pralines is that they are made in the microwave and over the years, no matter how microwaves have changed or which one I use, this basic recipe has never failed me.
Every once in a while, though, I can’t help but play with the recipe and change it up a little. Here I added a slight twist to my standard presentation for a recent neighborhood party. Based on a flavor combination I read about in one of my favorite Southern Cookbooks, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook by Martha Hall Foose, I decided to add a few crisp bits of crumbled bacon, along with a pinch of orange zest just before forming the candies. The outcome was a delicious variation on a faithful standard that tasted a lot like going home.
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups pecan halves
¾ cup buttermilk
2 Tablespoons butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup crisply cooked bacon, crumbled (about 5 slices)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon grated orange zest
Microwave on high for 12 minutes, stopping to stir well at 4 minutes intervals.
Stir in the baking soda and microwave on high for another 1 to 1½ minutes.
Remove from the microwave and stir in the crumbled bacon, vanilla and orange zest.
Continue stirring until the mixture begins to thicken, then quickly drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper.
Allow to cool. (When cool the pralines should lift easily from the waxed paper.)
These are best served the same day but can be kept for several days in an airtight container.