Today is Fat Tuesday; the culmination of Mardi Gras, the last night of excess before the Lenten season begins. Known to some as one of the biggest party nights of the year and to others, a season steeped in tradition. With Fat Tuesday’s strong ties to New Orleans – my favorite U.S. city - it’s no wonder this is one of my most beloved times of year.
In addition to the celebration portion, I also have a deep appreciation for tradition; both my own as well as learning about those from all over the world. Originally celebrated in predominately Catholic regions, many countries have a celebration similar to a Carnival. Carnival typically involves a public celebration and a parade combining elements of a circus, masks, and a public street party. Excessive consumption of alcohol, meat, and other fatty foods that are commonly abstained from during Lent is most common. Brazil hosts the largest Carnival with crowds upwards of 400,000 people… but New Orleans puts on quite the party as well, as they’ve been hosting the festivities since 1837! Before them? It was actually hosted in Mobile, Alabama, the original “French capital” of the south as early as 1703.
Chefs Melissa and Tara getting ready to celebrate at The Chopping Block's Mardi Gras Madness
But what about closer to home? Here in Chicago, I’ve noticed an affinity for Paczki (pronounced poonch-kee) – deep fried dough filled with jelly and dusted in powered-sugar, similar to a doughnut. I had never seen this lovely goodie until moving here from the East Coast and was curious to learn more. Turns out they are a traditional Polish pastry, created to use up all of the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the house again, before the ingredients become forbidden during Lent. With the high concentration of Polish immigrants in Chicago, the tradition has continued here; there’s even a Paczki-eating contest in nearby Evanston.
Spirits channeling the spirit of New Orleans
This local tradition reminds me of the more widely-known, King’s Cake; the pastry associated with the Epiphany, January 6, (also known as Twelfth Night… also known as my birthday!), when English and Europeans celebrated Christmas for twelve days up to this night. The current version is a coffee cake, and is oblong and braided. The cake is iced with a simple icing and covered with purple, green and gold sugar (the colors of Mardi Gras, representing Justice, Faith and Power, respectively). Each cake contains a small hidden baby doll. According to custom, whoever finds the doll must either buy the next King Cake or throw the next King Cake party… and will have good luck for the rest of the year. The final King Cake of the season is enjoyed on, you guessed it, Fat Tuesday.
Individual King Cakes
If you don't want to miss this celebration, join us for tonight's Mardi Gras Party at The Chopping Block's Lincoln Square location. There are just a few spots left!