Monday, February 9, 2009

It's That Time of Year Again...

Yep. They're everywhere! No matter where you go they are in your face. You can't escape them. They scream at you from far and near. What am I talking about you say?

Plastic babies? In bags? With colored beads?

It must be ...

Gotta be ...

King Cake Time!

Luscious, cinnamon sweet dough, generally filled with cream cheese and some kind of fruity filling, shaped into a ring and sprinkled with sugars in the colors of Mardi Gras - purple, green and gold, representing justice, faith and power.  (And, yes, yes, I know... these are nothing like European king cakes.)

And king cake means it's Carnival Season!

These king cakes have actually been around the stores for a couple of weeks now since our Carnival Season on the Mississippi Gulf Coast officially started on January 31st. (Starts even earlier in New Orleans.)  As soon as you walk into the local WalMart you are hit with a huge display of these lovely sugary concoctions, in all manner of fillings for every appetite. And while yes, even though the ones at WalMart are pretty yummy, and Gambinos over in New Orleans are delicious, my personal favorites come locally from Paul's Pastry Shop over in Picayune, Mississippi - near the Louisiana border.  Their dough is much more tender and delicious - and since I'm pretty sure that WalMart's king cakes are shipped in, Paul's are always fresher tasting.

Heck you can even pick up a Paul's Pastry king cake at local Fayards BP gas stations, but ya gotta get 'em early because they go fast. I love the berry ones - strawberry, blueberry, raspberry - the combo berry, is excellent - but the Mississippi Mud king cake and the Pecan Praline king cake are awesome!  In case you decide to have a little Mardi Gras party of your own, or just want to treat your friends or family to a very special treat, check out their menu! And remember, it's tradition that if you happen to receive the one piece of king cake that contains little plastic baby, you will have a very lucky year, but you also must "host" the next king cake.

Most folks associate Mardi Gras in the U.S. with the wild debauchery that occurs in New Orleans where women routinely expose their breasts to get the more so-called prized beads...

...though this still amazes me that women will do this... and it's not unusual to find people literally passed out in a corner somewhere amidst puddles of spilled beer and other ugly things from massive overindulging. Lovely huh? And oh yes, I lived in New Orleans for several years and believe me, I have seen it all.

One Mardi Gras I got into a crowd of people like in this picture on Bourbon Street when some very scantily clad young ladies from the Playboy Club came out onto one of those balconies, and suddenly the crowd rushed from both sides right into the center all at once toward those women and where we just happened to be and started crushing everybody.  My boyfriend at the time and I literally pushed our way over to the wall of one of the buildings, but it got a little bit scary until somebody up there finally figured out what was going on and made those gals go back inside and the crowd disbursed.  That was my last time to get on Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras day! Still, even in the ugliness of it, somehow, I think that everybody ought to experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans at least once in their lifetime.  But once just might be enough.

Well, in truth, Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the Coastal South - though in a much more family friendly manner outside of the French Quarter of New Orleans. Mardi Gras parades actually originated with our neighbors to the east in Mobile, Alabama, who celebrated their first Mardi Gras parade in 1703, well before New Orleans held their first parade, though some in New Orleans dispute this as being representative of carnival and still claim the title.

For us, here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Carnival Season starts officially this year on January 31st and will end on Fat Tuesday (which is what the word mardi gras actually means), the Tuesday before Lent, which is Mardi Gras Day down here - February 24th this year. It is sort of thought of as the last opportunity for merrymaking and indulgence in food and drink, and a time to throw caution to the wind (within reason) before the period of abstinence for the upcoming 40 days of Lent before Easter. Mardi Gras is marked by several weeks of pageants, elaborate masked balls, spectacular costumes, and weeks of parades featuring floats and people dancing and partying in the streets.  And yes, Mardi Gras is a very big deal on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

There are about 22 parades across the Mississippi Coast within the carnival period, some small, some large. Traditionally, Ocean Springs kicks off the first parade on the first Saturday in February and that was this past weekend.  (We were up in the "country" at a cousin's 60th birthday party and didn't go) Each parade is hosted by a different carnival organization, carnival krewe, or other group, many of whom also hold large masked balls complete with a king, queen and full royal court, boasting very elaborate costumes and much pageantry.

In Biloxi, the queen is named Queen Ixolib (which is Biloxi backwards if you missed that) and the king is King D'Iberville, named after the French explorer, Pierre Le Moyne, Sieu d'Iberville, who established a settlement at old Biloxi (now Ocean Springs) in 1699 when looking for the Mississippi Sound.

Colorful floats - often designed and built by Blaine Kern of New Orleans ...

... and truck floats, generally sponsored by local businesses, are loaded down with masked and costumed party revelers who throw loads of beads, plastic cups, doubloons, candy, stuffed animals, panties (yes, panties but not their panties) and other trinkets called "throws" ...

out to people who are lined up all along the parade routes. If you happen to know somebody on a float and they happen to spot you along the parade route, it is tradition that you will definitely get bombed with bags and bags of beads and other trinkets, which will bring much delight to those around you!  

Happy Mardi Gras y'all.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Let the good times roll!


  1. Thanks for the pictures Mary. I'm gonna make a King Cake probably this weekend. I'm gonna go to the site you pointed out and check out the menu.
    Thanks for helpin' me with linkin'. It's funny, I have always messed around on the computer and would figure out how to do most things but since I've been bloggin', I don't have the time to put into tryin' to figure out a puzzle, so I really appreciate your help.

  2. Oh you're welcome, I'm happy to help anytime.

    I kept thinking I was gonna get around to making a homemade king cake, so I was holding off on finishing this post, but figured I better go ahead and post it or Mardi Gras would be over LOL! King cakes are so available here that its hard not to just buy one premade.

  3. I LOVE this time of year here on the Coast! so much fun stuff, and yummy going on!!! :) :)

  4. Yummm, I love King Cakes. My mom came up several weeks ago from the coast for a visit and I had her bring me 12 Paul's King Cakes. I wanted some for the freezer to last for a while, the rest i gave to friends. They did not know what King Cakes were nor did they know what Mardi Gras was. I explained and gave them a king cake. They were so excited! They get a kick out of me getting stuff fom MS. You should have seen my friends when I introduced them to Lima Bean soup and Red Beans and Rice!!

  5. gdp628, I'll bet your friends loved you! What a neat thing to do to introduce folks to what they're missing with Mardi Gras traditions, but especially delicious king cakes! I totally love Paul's too!! Thanks for stoppin' by and leaving a comment - please come back and visit!


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