A taste of Mardi Gras

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wear purple, green or gold, grab a mask, stock up on beads and other baubles to hand out to the crowd, and you could organize a krewe of your own to celebrate Mardi Gras on March 6.

Mardi Gras.

Feathers. Beads. Bands. Parades. They’re all a part of what people in New Orleans call “The Greatest Free Show on Earth.”

The celebration that most folks know about today can trace its history to ancient Rome, where the early Christian church adopted some of the traditions of pagan, pre-Christian, society and mixed them with rituals that had been developed to celebrate Easter.

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The result was Mardi Gras, which means “Fat Tuesday,” a reference to the custom of partaking in extra food and drink prior to the observance of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and abstinence that commences with Ash Wednesday.

It’s no surprise, then that food and drink are just as important to the proper Mardi Gras celebration as beads and feathers. The earliest pre-Lenten celebrations in America were observed in Louisiana, brought there by French settlers or explorers and soon taking on the unique flavor of the bayou.

Today, the purple, green and gold of Mardi Gras (which, incidentally, represent justice, faith and power, respectively) are recognizable just about anywhere as symbolic of the grand party in New Orleans. Wear those colors, grab a mask, stock up on beads and other baubles to hand out to the crowd, and you could organize a krewe of your own to celebrate Fat Tuesday on March 6.

But don’t forget that Fat Tuesday is also about appreciating the good food and drink that you’re preparing to forego for the following 40 days. So eat up. And as they say in N’awlins, “Laissez le bon temps rouler!”

No Mardi Gras celebration is complete without a King Cake. The custom started in 1871, when the Twefth Night Revelers, a parade group, presented a young woman with a golden bean inside a cake. She became the queen of Mardi Gras, and a tradition was born. Today, finding the red bean or figurine of a baby inside the cake signifies good luck — and in some circles means you’re the one who will bake the cake or host the party next year. If that lot falls to you, you’ll appreciate a few good recipes that reflect the flavor of New Orleans.

Mardi Gras King Cake

A traditional cake baked with a hidden doll or coin

1 envelope active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water, about 105 to 115 degrees

2 tablespoons milk, scalded and cooled

4 to 5 cups flour

8 ounces butter

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

2 teaspoons melted butter

very small plastic doll, a large bean, or coin

light corn syrup for topping

granulated sugar colored with food coloring pastes: green, purple, and yellow


Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk and about 1/2 cup of flour. In a large bowl, blend butter, sugar, salt and eggs. Add yeast mixture and mix thoroughly. Gradually, add 2 1/2 cups flour to make a medium dough. Place in a greased bowl and brush with melted butter. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise until double in volume, about 3 hours. Use 1 cup or more flour to knead dough and roll into a 4 to 5 foot long rope. Form into a oval on a 14 x 17” greased baking sheet, connecting ends of the rope with a few drops of water to make a good seal.

Press the doll, bean, or coin into the dough from bottom. Cover dough ring with a damp cloth and let rise until double in volume, about 1 hour. Bake at 325° for 35 to 45 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Brush top of cake with corn syrup and sprinkle with alternating bands of colored sugar. If desired, freeze cake.

Courtesy of southernfood.about.com

New Orleans natives swear the city’s Mardi Gras celebration is a great event for the family. What you see on television, they say, is usually just the debauchery of Bourbon Street, where the parades no longer are allowed, anyway. Much of that debauchery is fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, which might not be all that surprising in a city that has an official cocktail, the absinthe and rye-fueled Sazerac. Another New Orleans mainstay is the Hurricane, invented at Pat O’Brien’s Bar in the heart of the French Quarter. In the own ways, both concoctions just scream N’awlins.

Hurricane Cocktail Recipe

1 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice

4 ounces dark rum

4 ounces passion fruit syrup

Crushed ice

Orange and/or lime slice

1 Maraschino Cherry

In a cocktail shaker, add lemon juice, rum, passion fruit syrup, and crushed ice; shake vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes.

Strain into a tall glass or hurricane cocktail glass.

Garnish with an orange and/or lime slices and a maraschino cherry.

Makes 1 serving.

Courtesy of cocktails.about.com