Laissez les bons temps rouler: Mardi Gras is here!

18 Feb

Fat Tuesday is just 3 days away! How do you plan to celebrate? A lot of people think of Mardi Gras as the wild spring-break-like, girls-gone-wild scene mostly acted out on Bourbon Street. There is so much more to it than that.

The origins of the Mardi Gras may be found long before Europeans ever set food in the New World. According to the East Jefferson Parish website, in mid February the ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalia, a circus like festival not entirely unlike the Mardi Gras we are familiar with today. When Rome embraced Christianity, the early Church fathers decided it was better to incorporate certain aspects of pagan rituals into the new faith rather than attempt to abolish them altogether. Carnival became a period of abandon and merriment that preceded the penance of Lent, thus giving a Christian interpretation to the ancient custom.

Mardi Gras came to America in 1699 with the French explorer Iberville. Mardi Gras had been celebrated in Paris since the Middle Ages, where it was a major holiday. Iberville sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, from where he launched an expedition up the Mississippi River. On March 3 of 1699, Iberville had set up a camp on the west bank of the river about 60 miles south of where New Orleans is today. This was the day Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France. In honor of this important day, Iberville named the site Point du Mardi Gras.

You may find more about traditional celebrations of Mardi Gras and how they evolved over the years at the website linked above. To me, as one who lived in New Orleans for a stint and grew up going at least once a year, Mardi Gras is about family and friends. And food, of course! As with many traditions from that region, food plays a huge roll in celebrating Mardi Gras.

In honor of this celebratory time, I’d love to share with you some of my favorite Cajun, Creole, and Southern dishes. A bit of me wishes I could be in New Orleans this weekend and attend some of the wonderful parades, balls, and parties. But, I’ll bake up a King Cake and fix one of our favorite dishes and call it good. I bought February’s issue of Louisiana Cookin’ because I was feeling so nostalgic. I hope you enjoy!

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