The Story of the Real Cajun Mardi Gras and The Walkers Experience
Mardi Gras- or Carnival- is celebrated in many cities worldwide with strong Catholic ties. Although legend tells of French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville hosting America’s first Mardi Gras celebration near present-day New Orleans in 1699, historical record says it was first celebrated in the 1700s in present-day Mobile, Alabama, the capital of the French Louisiana Territory. Today, communities along the gulf coast from Texas to Florida celebrate Mardi Gras season. Each area prides itself on its own unique customs, from parades, costumes, and formal balls to special food and libations.
Mardi Gras season begins on January 6th, called Epiphany or Twelfth Night, the fay the three kings reached baby Jesus in Bethlehem. To mark the occasion, local bakeries make a flaky, oval-shaped pastry called a king cake. Inside each king cake is a plastic baby that signifies the baby Jesus. The person who finds the baby in their slice has to host next year’s mardi gras party and provide the king cake. The Carnival Season culminated on Fat Tuesday (“Mardi Gras” in French), the day before Ash Wednesday, and the Christain Lent. On Fat Tuesday and the weeks leading up to it, Catholics- and many Protestants- eat and drink whatever they wish before giving up meat and other luxuries during the Lenten season of sacrifice and repentance.
Just 10 miles from Ville Platte is the small town of Mamou (pronounced Mah-moo), which hosts one of the traditional Cajun Mardi Gras Celebration in the United States. The Courir de Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday run) dayed back to the fête de la quémande (feast of begging), of medieval France. Mamou revelers on horseback go door to door begging for ingredients to make a communal pot of gumbo. Dressed in simple costumes made of colorful scraps of fabric and donning a mask and capuchon (cone-shaped hat), men sing ballads in French. One home might provide a bell pepper, well and other provides an onion or celery stick or even a live chicken.
“The Capitaine leads close to 200 men on horseback, and they dance on their horses,” says Jennifer. “they get permission to go on farmers’ lands to chase their chickens. The captured chickens are used in the gumbo. Behind them are trailers of men, women, and children throwing loot to the crowd, everyone having a good time.”
Afterward, the fun goes on at Fred’s, a famous Cajun French Music lounge in Mamou that opens every Saturday Morning for the locals to dance. “Fred’s Lounge was the first bar I went to in my life,” says Jack. “I think Joe and I were 8 and 10 years old, maybe younger. But it was just so cold and the only place we could go.”
After the Mardi Gras fun, the walkers invite their friends back to their Ville Platte house to warm up over a big pot of chicken and sausage gumbo–the true Cajun way of making gumbo, without tomatoes, okra, or seafood.
“New Orleans does things on a much grander scale with elaborate floats and balls,” says Jack. “But Cajuns are more simplistic. We do the traditional Mardi Gras here. It’s a big to-do because of all the people who get together.”
Mama’s Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
- In a 10-12 quart pot over high heat, fill ½ way with water and bring to a boil. Add ¾ jar of roux, boil until roux is completely dissolved, stirring occasionally. Reduce to medium heat; add sausage, onions, bell peppers, garlic and 2 tbsp of Slap Ya Mama Original Blend Seasoning. Boil for 15 minutes. With the remaining ½ tbsp. of Slap Ya Mama Original Blend Seasoning, season chicken and add to pot. Add water to pot until it is almost full. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 hour. With 10 minutes remaining of the hour boil, add parsley and green onions. Reduce low heat. Serve over rice, add a few dashes of Slap Ya Mama Pepper Sauce and enjoy!
- If you are having trouble finding Roux or Smoked Pork Sausage, try Teet’s Food Store of Ville Platte, Louisiana.