Mardi Gras is coming soon!

Carnival season time to eat, drink and be merry

By Shelly Detwiler, berry farmer and dietician

New Orleans is the place to party this month! First, let’s clear up some confusion. Carnival season starts at epiphany and is a time to eat, drink and be merry that includes parades, balls and other merriment leading up to Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras (also known as Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday) is the peak, the culmination, the last hurrah, the final tick of the Carnival season game clock before fasting and prayer begin with Lent. Now I’ve been to the Big Easy, the grand finale may be complete, but the energy, music and food live on yearlong. 

Believe it or not this party all started with a pancake. The story goes that a Pope in the time of 600 AD forbade eating all meat and animal products during Lent. It spread to Southern England where parishioners used up their eggs, milk and butter the day before Ash Wednesday in the form of pancakes. It became known as Pancake Day in England. What Pancake Day wouldn’t be complete without a pancake race? That’s right, I said pancake race. These races give townspeople the chance to dress up racing down the street with a skillet and a cooked pancake tossing it as they go. This sounds like something I need to see! As the tradition spread through Europe and France the banned ingredients were used in pancakes, waffles, crepes, and King cakes Mardi Gras was born. 

 Kelli, a good friend, and fellow dietitian from the Bayou state, tells me that Mardi Gras goes way beyond the beads, the booze and naked debauchery. It’s about family time and it begins with camping out for the perfect spot for the festivities. Building parade treehouses for their kids out of ladders and a box give kids a bird’s eye view of the parades. With tents, chairs and other party items complete, it’s time to get down to the eating — and I mean good eats! It’s New Orleans version of Cajun marathon tailgating. Kelli, my sideline reporter, states that the number one thing you see down the parade route is Popeye’s fried chicken! It’s fast, easy and the perfect portable treat while watching all the jollities. Other roadside fare includes red beans & rice, jambalaya, Po’ Boys and of course King Cake. What about Gumbo? Kelli’s response to the question is: too messy. 

What’s a King Cake you ask? Kingcake.com condensed version is that King cakes were baked in a circle to symbolize the circular route the three kings took to throw Herod off the trail as they went to see the new babe Jesus. They are baked daily filled with fruit, cream or both decorated with gold, green and purple symbolizing power, faith, and justice. In early France when a pea, bean or coin were hidden in the cakes, the winner who found the hidden item was King for a day. New Orleans Mardi Gras bakers hid a mini plastic baby representing sweet baby Jesus. If you found the baby, you were the host of the next Par-TAY! Kelli tells me these days the babies are usually on the outside of the King cakes. I suppose some baby swallowing incident has influenced this recent turn of events. 

 Southernfood.org states “Mardi Gras is upon us…and so is our 10-pound weight gain!” Now as a dietitian I am not a promoter of eating like there’s no tomorrow. I mean we just came off Christmas, throw in Carnival season and we’ll be busting out the springs of the scale. BUT, I can’t wait to try some of these New Orleans regional festive treats. I hope you’ll join me, in moderation of course, for a jolly good time.

Eat well and Healthy,

Shelly

Instant Pot New Orleans-Style Red Beans and Rice: Camelliabrand.com

Traditional British Shrove Tuesday Pancakes: Christinacucina.com

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