Flip side of above postcard: “The Mexican Candy seller is a typical sight on the streets of San Antonio. Dressed in his native garb and selling a kind of pecan candy peculiar to Mexico which he alone seems to have the secret of making more toothsome than anyone else.”
Pecan pralines that melt in your mouth. The perfect finishing taste after overdosing your Mexican food with spoonful after spoonful of addictive salsa and jalapenos.
In 1910, there was one praline vendor who dominated the market in San Antonio, Tomas Contreras (1847-1912). I “met” him when I was researching my recent book, An Ostrich-Plumed Hat, and Yes, She Shot Him Dead. I stumbled across a full-page obituary for the Candy King in one of the local newspapers.
Tomas was born in Guanajuato and arrived in San Antonio with his mother Juanita in 1877. In the kitchen of their rented house on Matamoros Street, Juanita made what everybody claimed was the best pecan candy. She would dispatch Tomas to sell it downtown. He would take his basket and head to Alamo Plaza near the Menger Hotel. The Menger soon invited him to sell inside the lobby, positioned next to their popular blind harpist.
Business was good, and word spread. His mother passed on her secret recipe to him, and Tomas soon had a small army of vendors positioned in plazas throughout downtown. Lines would form around them as soon as they arrived with their baskets and portable stands. Soon specialty stores around the country began placing orders, and the volume of mail-ordered candies sometimes overwhelmed the downtown post office.
The newspaper’s full-page tribute for Tomas in 1912 seemed designed to reassure San Antonians the Candy King’s recipe was not lost. Tomas willed the closely guarded recipe to his wife Filomena Otero Contreras (1868-1956). Their son Tomas (1894-1962) was listed as the candy maker of the household in the 1920 Census, but then something changed.
The 1930 Census listed Tomas as operating his own grocery store, with his mother making a living as a real estate agent. Tomas served in both World War I and II, but, at the time of his death at the VA Hospital in Kerrville in 1962, he was still identified as a San Antonio grocer.
So, where did the recipe for the most toothsome pecan candy go? Who finally ended up with the family’s secret?
This is the mystery I am hoping someone will solve. If a descendant sold the recipe for the confection and it’s being manufactured somewhere, I would love to know. I want to taste it just like the people in An Ostrich-Plumed Hat were able to enjoy it. Surely, someone in San Antonio knows where this recipe is.