Julia Liked It. She Really Liked It.

We all crossed our fingers and said our prayers when Julia came to dinner. Would she actually like what we served her? Enough to eat a lot of it, rather than just say something nice--or, worse, not say anything 'tall (as she would say), out of the unfailing politeness (she was too hearty and unaffectedly American for politesse)and bonhomie that kept every dinner-table conversation aloft?

Regina Charboneau of course wondered the same then when she cooked for Julia's first visit to her hometown of Natchez. She already had proof that Julia liked her biscuits, but she'd also watched Julia be politely, firmly frank about faults she found in food others served her. She was right to worry--especially when she was cooking on the day after trying to match Julia drink for drink at a welcome reception.

Southern cooks always have something besides biscuits in their arsenal: desserts, just the thought of which makes me want to go south. The one she pulled out--everyone put on the dog, another great Julia phrase, for Julia--was beignets, which fancy guests were lapping up long before the current restaurant doughnut-for-dessert trend.

But the guarantee that nothing could go wrong was her pecan praline sauce. I live on and for sugar, so I'm not the least daunted by the pound of sugar it starts with--and neither should you be, if you have a hankering for pralines and the brown-sugar icing that I could live on and no one outside the South seems to get right. Regina added a secret that makes pretty much everything better: buttermilk.

Julia lived by the principle that everything's better with butter. I live by another: everything's better with buttermilk. And a pound of sugar into the bargain--well, if you're looking for a dessert to serve over ice cream, fresh berries, or just to eat straight from a spoon, look no farther. I sure don't plan to.