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King of The Mardi Gras

By Kathleen Walls

It's the world's wildest street party! Mardi Gras in The Big Easy. It's a hoopla of food, fun and festivities where anything goes. Well, almost anything. The chief of police did say that "Flashers" would not be arrested, unless the bared female breasts created a problem. 300,000 people squeeze into the city generating around $11 million in revenue. One thing that is never a problem in New Orleans is getting your teeth into some of the traditional food.

Tradition is big in the Crescent City. Almost as big as the Mardi Gras season. Mardi Gras Day, which always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, is the last festivity before the city goes into mourning for Lent. Bet you never thought as Mardi Gras as a religious holiday? Personally, I always thought it took that long to recover from the fun.

The celebration came to New Orleans with its French founders, Sieurs De Iberville and Bienville. They actually landed in Louisiana on Mardi Gras of 1699. And the holiday has been celebrated there, in one form or another, ever since. Actually the celebration probably dates from an early Roman festival called the Lupercelia. This was a celebration to honor the goddess of fertility. The early Christian church decided to adopt it and tone it down a bit. In New Orleans, it's only toned down a little from that early pagan holiday.

Traditionally, the celebration begins on the Feast of the Three Kings or Epiphany. A round of parties called "King Cake Parties" would begin. The party features a oval shaped brioche type cake decorated with colored sugar in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, representing justice, green, representing faith, and gold, representing power. It was circular or oval to represent the route the three kings took to circumvent Herod. A small bean or baby doll representing the Christ child is baked inside the cake. When the cake is cut, it is divided into the exact number of guests. Whoever gets the piece with the baby is the next "King" or Queen" and is responsible for giving the next week's party.

It all culminates on "Fat Tuesday". No one needs to throw a party then because the entire city is one giant party. Everybody is drinking "Hurricanes" and munching on pralines. The parades begin several weeks before Mardi Gras and lead up to the main parade, Rex.

The parades began with just masked revelers marching through the streets of the infant city. In 1857, the first organized parades began with the "Krewe of Comus's". On through the 1950s and 60s, the traditional end to the day was the toast between the kings of Rex and Comus. The balls which fast became part of the tradition were usually held in the city's Municipal Auditorium on Rampart St. The huge partition between the two sections of the building would roll up and both of the kings would tap their glasses in the traditional toast. The magic was over for another year. Sadly, Comus disbanded recently ending one longstanding tradition.

With the traditional recipes below, you can celebrate whenever you are in the mood. So, laissez les bons temps roller (Let the good times roll).

King Cake

Ingredients:

Cake:

cup water
2Tbs butter or margarine
8 oz sour cream
2 eggs (separate one and save the white to make a wash)
3 cups flour
cups sugar
tsp. salt
1 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tiny porcelain baby doll or one uncooked dried large bean

Spread:

cup of sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 TBS butter or margarine

Colored sugars:

3 TBS granulated sugar
green, yellow, red and blue food color

Directions:

If using a bread maker, put ingredients except baby (or bean) in the order called for you the manufacturer. Set for "dough".

After dough has risen, roll it out on a flat surface till you have a rectangle about 1/4inch thick. Mix the "spread" ingredients together and blend. Spread it over the flattened dough. Roll jellyroll fashion from the long side. Shape it into a hollow oval. Join the ends of the oval by moistening and pushing dough together. Insert the baby (or bean) from the under side and smooth over the hole. Set it on a greased cookie sheet and cover with clean towel to rise. When it doubles in size, about 20 to 30 minutes, brush with wash made of egg white and a little water. Bake in 375% oven about 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Put 1 TBS sugar in 3 small container. Put in a drop of the food color in each container respectively. Except in one mix the red and blue to get purple. A tiny bit of food color goes a long way so be sparing. Stir it into the sugar to get nice bright shades of green, gold and purple. Sprinkle over the finished cake one color at a time.

Old Fashioned New Orleans Pralines.

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup Pet cream
1 tsp. vanilla (you can substitute bourbon here)
pinch of salt
cup sugar
2 pecans

Directions:

Put cream, 2 cups sugar, of the butter and a pinch of salt in large heavy pot. Bring to boil. At same time put cup sugar in cast iron pan and caramelize. Put caramelized sugar into boiling milk, sugar pot. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until it reaches soft ball stage. (234 to 240 % at sea level, slightly lower as the altitude gets higher). Add rest of butter and beat until mixture thickens. Add pecans and vanilla and mix in. Drop by teaspoon on greased surface. They will spread out and flatten. You can decorate each with a pecan half. Allow to cool.

Tropical Storm (AKA Mock Hurricane)

Ginger ale
Pineapple juice
Cherry juice
Cherry and orange slice for garnish

Fill tall glass with crushed ice. Mix 1/2 ginger ale and pineapple juice. Add some cherry juice and garnish with cherry and orange slice.

You can add rum. The more rum you add, the more like a Hurricane it becomes.

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