Filed under: Holidays on the Road, Menu Planning & Cooking, Special Theme Weeks
Alabama Mardi Gras Comes to Kentucky
To escape winter in north-central Kentucky, we decided to head south to the Gulf Coast and chose an RV park near Gulf Shores, Alabama, for the month of January.
As we toured the area, we noticed that slowly the Christmas decorations were being replaced by Mardi Gras colors. Rex, the King of Carnival, selected the Mardi Gras colors in 1892. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
Stores displayed hats, beads and party supplies. Bakeries hung signs encouraging hostesses to “Order Your King Cake Now!”
King cake is a brioche-type pastry, rolled or braided into a circle. It is flavored with cinnamon and sugar-frosted in Mardi Gras colors. A token — a coin, a bean, or a tiny plastic baby — is hidden inside. Whoever gets the token is the king or queen of the party. Nowadays most bakeries won’t put the baby into the cake because someone might choke on it, so they leave that to the hostess.
Mardi Gras is French for Shrove (Fat) Tuesday, the final day of revelry before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Parading societies (33 in Mobile) stage their parades and formal-dress balls over approximately three weeks before Fat Tuesday.
During the parades, revelers toss “throws” to onlookers, in response to cries of “Throw me something, mister!” Items thrown include beads, drink cups, small trinkets, candy and stuffed animals. Moon Pies are a tradition unique to Mobile. The story goes that they replaced Crackerjacks, which were banned because the sharp corners of the boxes might injure people. Moon Pies are soft sandwich cookies wrapped in cellophane. Streamers and confetti are not allowed, because they’re too messy to clean up.
We decided that it would be fun to collect party decorations and favors to decorate the RV and then take home to celebrate with our friends in February. (Mardi Gras falls on February 12 in 2013.) We already knew we liked jambalaya and gumbo and could find recipes; we stocked up on Creole mustard, Andouille sausage and a few other items that we knew we wouldn’t find in Kentucky. We even ordered Zydeco music CDs.
The usual supermarkets and big-box stores had lots of supplies, but Toomey’s Mardi Gras, headquartered in Mobile with a branch in Daphne, boasts that it is “one of the largest suppliers of Mardi Gras beads, masks, decorations and seasonal party merchandise in the world.” We bought tinsel and a plastic “Happy Mardi Gras” sign to hang on our mailbox so guests would know where the party was being held. Ornaments — masks, musical instruments, small hats and garlands — would decorate our small tabletop tree.
Back home, we concocted a pretty authentic jambalaya and ordered a king cake from a local donut shop run by a transplanted Louisianan. We put up the decorations, cranked up the music, and welcomed our friends to our first Mardi Gras party. Looks like it’s becoming an annual tradition!