Mardi Gras began long before Europeans set foot in the new world. The ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalis, a circus like festival similar to today’s Mardi Gras. When Rome embraced Christianity, the early Church fathers chose to incorporate certain aspects of pagan rituals into the new faith, rather than attempt to abandon them altogether. Carnival became a period of abandon and merriment that preceded the penance of Lent, thus giving a Christian interpretation to the ancient custom.
Mardi Gras was celebrated in Paris since the Middle Ages, and came to America in 1699 when French explorer Iberville sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, from where he launched an expedition up the Mississippi River. On March 3, 1699, Iberville set up camp on the west bank of the river about 60 miles south of where New Orleans is today. This was the day Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France. In honor of this important day, Iberville named the site Ponte du Mardi Gras.
Over the next two centuries public celebrations of Mardi Gras grew in tradition and favor, with intermittent periods of violent behavior which caused the governors to abolish masked revelers, and unpopular behaviors. The first documented parade occurred in 1837, but the celebration continued to gain a negative reputation. In 1857, six New Orleans citizens saved Mardi Gras by forming the Comus organization. Comus added beauty to Mardi Gras and showed that it could be a safe and festive event. Comus originated the term Krewe to describe itself, and also began the custom of a secret Carnival society, giving a unifying theme with floats, and after parade balls.
Through the years Mardi Gras was canceled during the war years, and struggled during the years of Prohibition and The Great Depression. But Mardi Gras survived. Avoyelles enjoys celebrating the season with parades, floats, food, revelers, queens and elegant balls.
Avoyelles Food Focus
Mardi Gras Bread Pudding
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup brandy or unsweetened apple juice
½ cup butter, melted, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups half-and-half cream
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
10 slices day-old French bread (1 inch thick), cubed
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In small saucepan, combine raisins and brandy. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and set aside. Brush a shallow 2 ½ quart baking dish with 1 tablespoons butter; sprinkle with sugar and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, cream, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and nutmeg. Stir in remaining butter and reserved raisin mixture. Gently stir in bread; let stand for 15 minutes or until bread is softened and well soaked.
Transfer mixture to prepared dish. Bake, uncovered, at 350°, for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
For sauce, in a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt; gradually add water. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla. Serve with bread pudding. Yield: 12 servings.