- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Candy maker Loretta Harrison sold pralines and other sugary treats at New Orleans’ French Market for more than 15 years until Hurricane Katrina shut down her business.

With vendors such as Miss Harrison dispersed by the storm, French Market Corp., the company that manages the more than 200-year-old market, decided to begin a $5 million renovation.

The makeover that began in August is nearing completion. The French Market consists of a flea market, farmers market and shops running along the Mississippi River between Cafe Du Monde and the Old U.S. Mint. The market has nearly 200 tenants who sell food, clothing and art.

“The most important change is in the farmers market,” said Patricia Henry, interim director of French Market Corp. “We will have fresh food in the market again, fresh produce, meat, seafood, dairy, dry foods, spices, coffee.”

Merchants say they are ready to return. Miss Harrison said she has been selling her baked goods and candy out of a warehouse in the Faubourg Marigny, just east of the French Quarter.

Miss Harrison’s signature items include pralines, praline cookies, fudge, tomato bread and sweet-potato cookies. She said such goods belong at the historic market, which has been at the site on the banks of the Mississippi River since 1791.

“Everything is indigenous to here,” she said. “Pralines came right into the market by slaves. These are old products. It’s just like the red beans and rice and the gumbo, it makes New Orleans what it is. We can’t forget it.”

In the early days of the market, which lies on the site of an Indian trading post, Choctaw Indians from north of Lake Pontchartrain sold herbs, spices and handmade crafts. Blacks sold coffee, pralines and calas — rice fritters popular in 19th century.

Over time, the market began drawing other vendors, many of whom sold fish and grocery goods. Italians, particularly from Sicily, sold fruits and vegetables. Today, a variety of foods are still for sale, along with crafts, hand-woven baskets, hats, ceramics, African carvings and exotic oils.

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