Well, itís Mardi Gras again. Now whatís a transplanted southerner
living in Los Angeles to do? Why head down to the Farmerís
Market on Fairfax, of course! Every year, The Gumbo Pot at
the market hosts a Mardi Gras celebration complete with live
music, bead throwing, face painting, dancing, hat making for
the kids, and special recipes for red beans and rice, crawfish,
catfish, cornbread, and jambalaya. Delish!
As I sat with friends in the crowded market sipping a Blackened
Voodoo, I wondered who started this rockiní southern holiday,
one so popular itís even made its way to this little corner
of Los Angeles. So I did a little research when I got home.
In mid-February, the ancient Romans celebrated
the Lupercalia, a pagan carnival. When Rome converted to Christianity,
the Church officials decided it would be easier to incorporate
certain aspects of pagan rituals into their faith rather than
attempt to start something entirely new. The festival became
a period of raucous fun that preceded the Catholic penance
of Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday. (For those who donít
know, mardi gras is French for fat Tuesday. Although Mardi
Gras as a celebration usually runs for two weeks, it is that
last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday thatís the ďfattestĒ!)
In 1699, Mardi Gras came to the South with the French explorer
Iberville who sailed into the Gulf of Mexico and set out on
an expedition up the Mississippi River. On March 3, he set
up camp on the west bank of the river, sixty miles south of
New Orleansí current location. Mardi Gras was being celebrated
in France on this day, so, in honor of this important French
holiday, Iberville named the site Point du Mardi Gras.
While New Orleans was in French hands, masked balls and
festivals were plentiful. Unfortunately, once New Orleans
fell into Spanish hands, the celebrations were banned. In
1803, the United States annexed New Orleans, and by 1823 the
Creoles persuaded the government to permit masked balls. Four
years later, street masking was legalized.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Mardi Gras was
made up of maskers on foot, on horseback, and in carriages
running around town actiní crazy. The first organized parade
didnít take place until 1837, and the next two decades built
Mardi Grasí bad reputation due to persistent street violence
during the festivities. Indeed, the rowdiness got so out of
hand that the press demanded an end to the partyiní.
In the mid-nineteenth century, six New Orleans citizens
rescued Mardi Gras when they started the Comus organization
(the first krewe), adding the secret Carnival society along
with beautiful floats and balls. They created a safe yet festive
atmosphere. These six men were former members of the Cowbellians,
an organization that had New Year's Eve parades in Mobile
since 1831, so they knew how to throw a party and control
Mardi Gras was suspended during the Civil War, but in 1866
it returned with a vengeance. People were tired of war and
deprivation and wanted to party!
What about the king cake tradition, you might ask (I posted
a recipe for the beloved cake below!). In 1870, the Twelfth
Night Revelers formed, and the very next year they began the
custom of presenting a young woman with a golden bean hidden
in a cake. This young woman was the first queen of Mardi Gras,
and this moment started the king cake tradition.
In 1872, the krewe of Rex made their debut and began the
tradition of the "King of Carnival." They also introduced
purple, gold. and green as the official colors of Mardi Gras
and "If Ever I Cease To Love" as the Mardi Gras
But whatís history to a Mardi Gras reveler? Forget I said
anything. Head down to the Farmerís Market, listen to that
New Orleans style jazz, and drink some Dixie. And say hello
for me to that old lady thatís always there. Yeah, you know
the one. She sits right in the middle. Thatís her. The one
with the t-shirt that reads, ďI left church early to come
to Mardi Gras!Ē
King Cake Recipe
Oh, letís make this easy, just go buy a can of cinnamon
rolls with icing
Buy 3/4 cup of sugar, separated into 3 parts of 1/4 each
Oh yeah, and donít forget to buy food coloring
And youíre gonna need a little plastic baby
Roll out the dough to make a long hot dog. Shape the roll
into an oval and put it on a cookie sheet. Hide the baby in
the dough. Cook it according to the package directions.
While itís cooking, use the food coloring to dye your sugar.
Make one part purple using blue and red, one part green, and
one part gold using yellow.
When itís finished cooking, ice the tops with the white
icing. Sprinkle the different colors of sugars alternating
as you go around the oval.
Slice it. Whoever gets the baby has good luck all year and
has to bring the King Cake next year.