ahhh, mardi gras...
before we get started, i created this mardi gras playlist for you to enjoy while you read :] click play...you know you wanna!
there are three types of people in the world:
1. people who live in louisiana - these people have been gearing up for this since the day after christmas. while most of the world is focused on ringing in the new year, as soon as the red and green gift wrap has been put away, us louisianans start seeing purple green and gold. mardi gras is the only holiday on our minds...we start planning the upcoming season's crawfish boils, checking the price of live crawfish EVERY day, until they dip below 2 bucks a pound. we start letting out the wasteline on our favorite pair of pants in anticipation for the amount of king cakes we'll be eating the next few months. we start requesting vacation time off for parade days, and start stockpiling the liquor cabinet for "the big weekend".
2. people who have moved away from louisiana - these people are the ones who, as soon as christmas is over, start kicking themselves in the rear for ever moving away from this wonderful place. what person in their right mind could experience the months of january, february and march without crawfish, king cake and parades?!? it's a mystery i will never understand.
3. finally, we have the rest of you folks...those who have been in the dark their entire lives. those who have never seen the light. those who have never tasted the sweet and delicate taste of that beloved pastry. have never felt the warm juice from a crawfish head rolling down their elbows...never had their sinuses cleared so quickly by that delicious red pepper...for these folks, i make this post.
now for a little history lesson :]
mardi gras (pronounced mah-dee gra) can be traced back to medieval europe. the name means 'fat tuesday'. it was brought to the states by the french-canadian explorer, Jean Baptiste le Moyne Sieur de Bienville in 1699, when he landed on a plot of land about 60 miles south of new orleans. he named the place, "pointe du mardi gras". (he also discovered mobile, alabama, which for those of you who didn't know, was the original capitol of louisiana :] ) to celebrate the french holiday, he started secret societies, which are known today as "krewes" (pronounced like crews). the first secret society was called masque de la mobile and lasted from 1704 - 1709. in 1710, the boeuf graf society was formed, and held the first mardi gras parade, with the first mardi gras float made from giant bull's head, pushed along on wheels by 16 men. crazy, right?
so in 1718, jean baptiste discovered new orleans, and by the 1730's, the holiday was being celebrated openly in the city and surrounding areas, but not in the parade form that we celebrate today. then governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuill established elegant society balls, which are still held today.
by the late 1830's, new orleans street processions where a prominent way to celebrate the holiday, with masked carnival goers parading in the streets and horse drawn carriages and such. at this point, the celebrations became more organized, and local newspapers started printing events related to the holiday in advance.
in the 1870's, the third krewe was established...The Twelfth Night Krewe. this krewe established the first mardi gras "throws" (beads, dubloons and such that are thrown from floats). later that decade, a group of businessmen established a King of Carnival, Rex, to lead the first daytime parade. the Rex parade was where the colors of mardi gras, the mardi gras song and the mardi gras flag were introduced.
during the 1870's the governor of louisiana signed the mardi gras act, making it a legal holiday in our state. all government offices and schools close for lundi gras and mardi gras (monday and tuesday :] )
nowadays, mardi gras is a 5 day long celebration, starting on the friday before, extending all way until midnight on fat tuesday. once midnight hits, mardi gras is officially over and the streets literally shut down. during the parades, people will literally do just about anything for beads, because, well, as we all know...the bigger the beads, the better :] really, you just have to experience it to understand it...i think it's something everyone should do at least once.
here's a little mardi gras eye candy for you...
if you want the folks on a float to throw you anything, you have to say these words
brass bands are EVERYWHERE, playing zydeco and jazz
beads are a big deal. the bigger the better. :]
the french quarter is so beautiful, especially when decorated for mardi gras!
that giant head above is Rex, the King of Carnival
so now that you all have a little understanding of the holiday (sorry for the boring history lesson), let's talk about king cake! this history lesson will be much more fun, i promise...plus, there's a giveaway at the end! :]
the history of the king cake began in 12th century france, where bakeries would bake a cake on the eve of january 6th, to celebrate the visit of christ by the three kings. a small token was usually hidden inside of the pastry as a surprise for the finder. the cake is generally oval shaped (imagine a racetrack), and is similar to coffee cake dough, laced with cinnamon. the dough is rolled out into a long tube, then shaped into an oval. a small plastic baby is inserted into the dough as the "token" spoken of earlier. it symbolizes baby Jesus, and how difficult it was for the wisemen to find him. once the cake is baked, it is iced and sprinkled with a thick layer of granulated sugar, usually colored in purple, green and gold. the best king cakes are filled with your choice of filling. my favorites are strawberry and cream cheese, apple, chocolate and coconut, and praline :] there are hundreds of traditional flavors to choose from, and most bakeries offer a special flavor specific to their bakery.
in the 18th century, french settlers brought the custom to louisiana. the first king cake of the season was served on january 6th. whoever found the baby was allowed to choose a mock court, and were required to host the next king cake party (parties were held weekly from january 6th until mardi gras). in the lat 1870's, the Twelfth Night Revelers held their balll with a large king cake as the main attraction. instead of choosing a sacred king for the ball, they used a bean in the cake to choose the queen. this tradition is carried on to this day. now, a large wooden replica of a king cake is used, with various small drawers along the lower layer. all the girls at the ball open a drawer. if they find a silver bean, they are a member of the mardi gras court, and if they find the gold bean, they are the queen.
now, when your eating the cake with friends and family, it's tradition for whomever finds the baby to buy the next king cake :]
so, in honor of this holiday, and the traditions it includes, i am giving away a king cake :] the winner will be chosen one week from today. i will order a king cake in the flavor of their choice from my favorite local bakery, and ship it to the winner, along with some other fun mardi gras staples. everything you'll need to celebrate the holiday wherever you are :] this is my way of sharing my family's heritage and my state's legacy with you wonderful folks out there! to enter, leave a comment telling everyone something cool that is specific to where you live, sort of like mardi gras is to louisiana. :] tweet about the giveaway (be sure to use @emjay0121) for a second entry, and for a third, blog about the giveaway and leave a link in the comment section. i look forward to hearing some of your stories! :]