It’s Mardi Gras season in the Deep South. The first three parades of the 2013 season rolled this weekend in New Orleans — Krewe du Vieux and Krewe Delusion through the French Quarter Saturday night and the Krewe of Little Rascals Sunday afternoon in Metairie.
By the time Fat Tuesday — always the day before Ash Wednesday — is over, there will have been 65 Mardi Gras parades in the Greater New Orleans area and hundreds of others along the Gulf Coast.
While many think of Mardi Gras and New Orleans as being synonymous, the celebration actually began in Mobile, Ala.
Now, parades are held as far east as Dunedin, in the Tampa area, to Galveston, on the Texas coast just down the road from Houston.
Up on Main Street, we started our celebration last week when a friend sent us our first King Cake of the season. Then, on Wednesday, a former nursing student of my wife’s sent us our second and the celebration spread to the Daily Southerner on Friday with a wonderful all flavors cake from Manny Randazzo’s bakery.
The "king cake" takes its name from the biblical three kings. In Catholic liturgical tradition, the Solemnity of Epiphany — commemorated on January 6th — celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The Eve of Epiphany (the night of January 5) is popularly known as Twelfth Night (the Twelve Days of Christmas are counted from Christmas Eve until this night). The season for king cake extends from the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas (Twelfth Night and Epiphany Day), up until Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday;" the day before the start of Lent. Some organizations or groups of friends may have "king cake parties" every week through the Carnival season.
Along the Gulf Coast, the tradition was brought to the area by colonists from France and Spain and is associated Mardi Gras. King cake parties in New Orleans are documented back to the 18th Century.
The king cake of the New Orleans tradition comes in a number of styles. The most simple, said to be the most traditional, is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold (the traditional Mardi Gras colors) with food coloring. In 1972, a small bakery in Picayune, Miss., Paul's Pastry, started adding fillings to King Cakes filling — the most common being cream cheese, praline, cinnamon, or strawberry.
After sampling the Randazzo king cake, my wife said Paul’s is better and, being just 20 minutes from where we lived when we were Louisianians, it was a quick drive to Paul’s.
The Randazzo cake we had had a bit of everything — and for the first time ever, I found the baby — which means good luck and that I supply the next king cake ... which may be on its way now, since we made it known we were missing them.
On Fat Tuesday, Stephanie, Bridget and I will have our parade — even if it’s just walking around the block and playing some Professor Longhair music on the porch.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
(John H. Walker is editor and publisher of The Daily Southerner. He can be reached at 823-3106.)