The celebration of Mardi Gras came to North America from France where it had been celebrated since the Middle Ages. The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons.
The actual founding of Mardi Gras was in 1702:
In 1702 French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville established “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” (which is now Mobile). In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras. Though most people associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama, began holding the festival in 1703, 15 years before it started in Louisiana.
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”. It reflects the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. Ironically, the solemn and austere period of Lent created Carnival, which literally means, “farewell to meat.” All carnival revelries began with the frenzied overindulgence of people about to bid a temporary, but very fond, adieu to the pleasures of the flesh.
There are many traditions associated with Mardi Gras. A few are listed in this post: The wearing of masks, throwing trinkets and beads from the floats in the parades and a reigning King and Queen.
The Wearing Of Masks
Masks are an integral part of Mardi Gras culture. During early Mardi Gras celebrations hundreds of years ago, masks were a way for their wearers to escape social constraints and social demands. Mask wearers could mingle with people of all different classes and could be whomever they desired, at least for a few days.
In New Orleans, float riders are required by law to have a mask on. On Fat Tuesday, masking is legal for all Mardi Gras attendees – although many store owners will post signs asking those entering to please remove their masks first.
The throwing of beads from elaborate floats
The tradition of bead throwing & the color of the beads was determined by the king of the first daytime Carnival in 1872. He wanted the colors to be royal colors – purple for justice, gold for power and green for faith. The idea was to toss the color to the person who exhibited the color’s meaning.
The beads were originally made of glass, which, as you can imagine, weren’t the best for tossing. It wasn’t until the beads were made of plastic that throwing them really became a staple of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Early Mardi Gras floats were horse drawn carts and wagons which began to appear in and around the mid-1800s. These crude early floats were often accompanied by flambeaux carriers who carried torches to light the way for floats and bands during Mardi Gras night parades.
Flambeauxs are still used today in the parades.
A King and Queen of Mardi Gras
Each year, a king and queen are selected to reign over the parade. The Rex (Rex is Latin for “King”, and Rex reigns as “The King of Carnival”) Organization founded in 1872 has helped define Mardi Gras. Rex’s Proclamation invites his subjects to the grand celebration of Carnival. His royal colors of purple, green, and gold are to this day the colors of Mardi Gras, and the song played in the first Rex parade, “If Ever I Cease to Love,” has become Carnival’s anthem. Rex and his Queen preside over the Rex Ball, Carnival’s glittering conclusion.First King and Queen of Mardi Gras in Mobile, AL
This image of Rex, the King of Carnival, is embossed on the face of the gold Rex doubloon, a popular and coveted parade throw.
Visitors come to enjoy Mardi Gras year after year. Although Mardi Gras stretches out to almost two weeks the culmination of the celebration is still Mardi Gras day, when Rex climbs onto his float and greets his subjects as his Procession passes through the streets of his kingdom.
The visitor who sent this postcard home to New Jersey in 1904 was obviously thrilled!
And while Mardi Gras reigns strong in Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana there are many parades in other cities as well, such as our beautiful city of Fairhope AL. Double OO Double MM parade shots from February 2016 !
–Elaborate Floats christened the parade route–
Today’s floats are highly detailed and vibrant in color!
Mardi Gras decorations are put up all over town….
And the traditional King Cakes are eaten in abundance during the Mardi Gras Season!
A Tradition called KING CAKE:
French settlers brought Mardi Gras to New Orleans and the Louisiana territory. The “Galette des Rois,” or king cake, came too, becoming a symbol of New Orleans’ and a brand of Mardi Gras.
Here’s a king cake recipe to recreate the New Orleans-style magic in your own kitchen. It makes 1 large cake.
• 3/4 cup warm milk
• 2 1/4 teaspoons or one packet of dry yeast
• 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon of sugar
• 1 stick of butter, melted and cooled
• 2 egg yolks
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Filling and topping
• 1 stick of butter
• 8 ounces cream cheese
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
• 1 plastic baby
• 2 cups powdered sugar
• 3 tablespoons milk
• Sanding sugar, marzipan circles, or other decorations in yellow, green, and purple
1. Combine the warm milk, yeast, and 1 teaspoon of sugar and let proof. While yeast is proofing, whisk together the butter, egg yolks, and vanilla extract. In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, combine remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, flour, nutmeg, and salt.
2. When the yeast mixture is foamy, add that and the butter mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix to combine. Using a dough hook, or kneading by hand on a floured surface, work the dough (adding flour as needed) for 5 to 7 minutes until you have a smooth dough. Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rise for 2 hours, until doubled in size. Begin making the filling as soon as the dough begins rising.
3. In a large sauce pan, melt together the butter and cream cheese. Stir in the brown sugar and continue stirring until the mixture starts to bubble. Remove it from heat, stir in the pecans, and then set it aside to cool while the dough finishes rising.
4. When the dough is finished rising, transfer it to a large piece of parchment paper and roll it out to a 9 X 13-inch rectangle. Spread the filling on evenly, leaving an inch along one of the long sides so that the filling doesn’t ooze out. Starting opposite of that end, roll up the dough like a jelly roll, sticking the baby in somewhere in the middle.
5. Grease an empty 28-ounce can and place it in the center of a large baking sheet that’s been lined with parchment. Gently wrap the dough roll around the can, seam side down, and pinch the ends well. Let rise for another half an hour.
6. Preheat oven to 375° F. Once the cake has gone through its second rising, bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the cake is a nice brown color. Remove the can as soon as the cake comes out of the oven. Let the cake cool completely before decorating.
7. To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar and milk. If the consistency is too thick for your taste, add more milk a little bit at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Once the cake is out of the oven and cooled, pour on the the glaze and then decorate as you wish. For my decoration, I kneaded liquid food coloring into marzipan, rolled it out, and then cut out circles. If you’d like to go the traditional route and use standing sugar, you can either use store-bought or make your own by placing a few tablespoons of white sugar in a Ziploc bag with a few drops of food coloring and shaking it up.
Au Revoir!! A La Prochaine!!