Happy Tuesday (Fat Tuesday), everyone! I hope everyone has dug out from under the snow and is ready for a party. It’s been busy here, ending one writing project, starting another, revising another, but hopefully I can have a Hurricane and some King Cake while I settle in to watch the Olympics again tonight. I also got another new cover (for the US release of To Deceive a Duke in May!), and thanks to Julia Justiss who sent me a link to a new review of Countess of Scandal at All About Romance (A-, yay!), plus another new one at Single Titles. And I’m at the Unusual Historicals blog all week, giving away a copy…
Mardi Gras has a very long history. In mid-February the ancient Romans used to celebrate the festival of Lupercalia, and after the rise of Christianity the tradition of a winter-time party continued (though it was re-fashioned as one last hurrah before the deprivation of Lent). It came to America in 1699 along with French explorer Iberville, who sailed into the Gulf of Mexico to launch an expedition up the Mississippi River. By March 3 he had set up a camp about 60 miles south of current-day New Orleans, and remembered it was Mardi Gras in France (thus the site was named Point du Mardi Gras). The French tradition took hold immediately in the new French settlement, and by the late 18th century raucous masked balls and festivals were commonplace at this time of year, only to be curtailed when the Spanish came to power and banned masking. In 1803 New Orleans became US property, and the ban against masked festival continued until the local Creole populace convinced the governor to make masking legal again in 1823.
The first documented parade was in 1837, but soon things got way out of hand. The local press in the 1840s and 50s called for the end of the celebration, due to violence associated with the parties. In 1857 a group of 6 men took over and formed the Comus organization to keep things (somewhat) under control. They were the first group to use the word “krewe”, and they also started the custom of having a parade with a unifying theme, a ball after the parade, and secret Carnival societies. In 1871 the custom began of choosing a Queen of Mardi Gras, and in 1872 Mardi Gras had a pivotal year. The Grand Duke Alexei Romanov of Russia visited, the krewe of Rex debuted along with the Knights of Momus, and the Queen was joined by a King of Mardi Gras. Purple, green, and gold became the official colors, and “If Ever I Cease To Love You” became the official song.
In 1882, the Krewe of Proteus debuted in an Egyptian-themed parade; in 1890 the first marching band, The Jefferson City Buzzards, marched (hard to imagined a parade without marching bands!), and things expanded with the first African-American krewe in 1894 (the Original Illinois Club) and the first all-female organization in 1896 (Les Mysterieuses).
This is only the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to the history of Mardi Gras, of course! It’s a long, fascinating, and very special subject. You can find more here at MardiGras.com along with help planning your visit to New Orleans. You can have a party even if you’re at home, though! Here is a recipe for King Cake:
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2/3 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
- When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
- To Make Filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.
- Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10×16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners’ sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.
And one for a Hurricane:
Pour all but the juices, in order listed, into a hurricane glass three-quarters filled with ice. Fill with equal parts of grapefruit and pineapple juice, and serve.
And some music!
What are your plans for Mardi Gras??? Anyone else as obsessed by the Olympics as me?