From breaking scientific studies, surveys, and special promotional events, to the latest and greatest creations in fast food, drinks, and snacks, we’ve skimmed off the cream of the crop and are serving it up in fun and informative bite-sized pieces that are still enough to chew on.
With coronavirus quarantines and social distancing impacting all aspects of life, Easter celebrations are going to look at least somewhat different this year—online masses and Skype sessions with far-flung family, for instance—but we know a lot of people will still be enjoying traditions like decorating Easter eggs, cooking ham or lamb for dinner, and giving Easter baskets. So here, a bit about the history of Easter baskets, including where they came from and why they’re usually full of candy.
Like Christmas, Easter is a Christian (and possibly originally pagan) holiday that’s just as popular among the secular set. Giving children Easter baskets laden with candy is as vital a part of the tradition as dyeing eggs—but why?
Well, it’s mostly thanks to the Germans. Some people posit that “Easter” derives from Eostre, the Germanic goddess of spring—but other sources say this goddess was totally made up by a 7th-century British historian. The holiday itself probably actually sprang from Passover, and they do share many commonalities; furthermore, “Easter” is called Pascua in Spanish and Paques in French, similar to the Hebrew Pesach. Our term for the holiday may have come from a simple mistranslation.
The iconic eggs of Easter definitely have roots—or analogues, at least—in pre-Christian fertility celebrations and creation myths. They were a symbol of renewal and rebirth for countless religions and cultures over millennia, from ancient Hindus to Phoenicians to Egyptians and Greeks. It makes sense that they became linked with Easter too. But it’s also true that eggs (and many other foodstuffs) were traditionally given up during Lent, which ends just before Easter Sunday, so there’s another explanation for why they may have become so closely tied to the holiday.
And what about the baskets that traditionally hold them?
Somewhere along the line, at least as far back as the 1600s, German Protestants began believing (or telling their children, anyway) that a hare—another long-lived symbol of fertility and the returning fecundity of springtime—would bring colored eggs to place in improvised “nests” made from bonnets, hats, and presumably, baskets they would leave out overnight.
Actually, the Osterhase (or Easter Hare) was alleged to lay the eggs, and like Old St. Nick, would only gift good children. There’s no word on whether he left any unpleasant surprises for the bad ones, but the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers brought their Easter traditions to America, and the rabbit’s popularity grew exponentially. Eventually, the Osterhase or Oschter Haws became the Easter Bunny, and the baskets made room for candy and toys in addition to eggs (with plastic eggs overtaking actual hard-boiled specimens in the modern age).
In Poland and other Eastern European countries, it’s customary to bring baskets of food to church to have them blessed on Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, but these baskets contain bread, sausage, horseradish, and other traditional Easter foods (including eggs, of course) instead of scads of candy.
Meanwhile, your typical American Easter basket might look more like this, give or take some major electronics, video games, and toys of the moment:
Commercialism, of course! Since the 1800s, chocolatiers and confectioners have been making egg-shaped sweets in celebration of spring in general and Easter in particular. People love sugary treats, and in novelty shapes they’re even more enticing, so it’s no wonder all sorts of seasonal candy has taken off.
These days, many parents are moving away from unhealthy sugar overloads and choosing non-edible items for the bulk of their kids’ basket goodies, but Easter confections remain a highly lucrative racket (to the tune of over $17 billion per year), second only to Halloween candy. Some people who observe Lent and abstain from sweets during the period might justify treat-filled Easter baskets as a fitting reward.
Let’s take a look at what’s likely to be in those baskets:
Rabbit-shaped chocolate molds date back to at least 1890. Crafted by artisans, they were finely detailed to create beautiful—and one would assume, delicious—products demonstrating the skill of the chocolate-maker. Hollow versions of these molds originated in 1939; bunny-shaped empty shells were obviously cheaper to make and to buy (and easier to take a bite out of, to be fair—plus, there’s something satisfying about shattering a pair of snappy hollow ears between your teeth).
During WWII, rationing meant there were no chocolate rabbits to be had, but after the war’s end, they were back in production—and the Palmer chocolate rabbit in particular was born. It proliferated like, well, actual bunnies, and despite tasting completely underwhelming, still graces shelves in various guises today. Thankfully, lots of other chocolate companies large and small make their own Easter rabbits too, so you can always choose a tastier example of the form.
While it may be hard to imagine when contemplating the endless, neon-bright ranks of identically squishy Peeps behind their cellophane wrapping in a store, they began life as meticulously hand-made marshmallow chicks; between piping them into shape and painting on the finishing touches, it took 27 hours to make a single tray!
Once a means of mass production was devised, they started flying off the shelves (sorry; but really—they’re now made at a rate of over 5 million Peeps per day), and of course, they come in multiple flavors, shapes, colors, and variations like chocolate filled and fudge-dipped today. Still, some would say they’re best used in dioramas.
A descendant of Turkish Delight (which has been around since biblical times, though you may only remember it from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”), chewy jelly beans are thought to have debuted in the late 19th century. What was a simple penny candy now comes in a wide array of whimsical flavors, from buttered popcorn to earwax and dirt. What a time to be alive; and just image what the original bean-makers would have thought had they been given a glimpse into this weird future.
As for why they became associated with Easter baskets, it’s because they’re vaguely egg shaped—one company marketed them as “Jelly Eggs” in the 1920s, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
The ever-divisive Cadbury Creme Egg as we know it was invented in 1963, although it wasn’t called Cadbury’s until 1971. Over the years, it’s caused its share of controversy, but even if you find them too sweet to actually eat, the classic commercial is pretty great. Let’s all agree to pretend Cadbury mayo never happened, though.
Cadbury also makes mini, pastel candy-coated chocolate eggs, but they’re certainly not the only company to do so. These have probably been made by various chocolatiers since early days; the hard panning method used to build up a crunchy sugar shell was invented in 17th century France (to make Jordan almonds) and is also used for various other candies, including M&Ms and Boston Baked Beans (jelly beans are panned too, but soft panned rather than hard panned).
Beware the deceptively similar appearance of speckled candy-coated malted milk eggs.
These perennial favorites were first test-marketed in 1966, but who could conceive of Easter without them now? Vastly superior to regular Reese’s cups due to the higher ratio of crumbly peanut butter filling, these now come in several variations from mini eggs to Cadbury-esque peanut butter creme eggs, and there’s even a Reester bunny if old-school solid (or hollow!) milk chocolate doesn’t do it for you. There’s something to be said for the classics, though, even if you only crave them once a year.
St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching, and if you’re like the preponderance of Americans looking to eat like they’re Irish, you’re probably thinking about where you can indulge in some corned beef and cabbage. The thing is, maybe you should consider something else. After all, corned beef might not really be Irish. Plus, there are numerous dishes from the Emerald Isle worth your consideration. One such dish is shepherd’s pie. So, in preparation of your, perhaps, partaking in the pie, let’s look at its history.
You might be thinking, “Of all the Irish dishes, why are you focusing on shepherd’s pie?” Truth be told, when I think of a St. Paddy’s feast, corned beef is top of mind. There, I said it. Call me a basic lad. I guess I’m just like everyone else. But I covered the origins of corned beef last year, and I can’t very well write it again, now, can I? So, I thought about my alternate meal. The meal that I’d have if I were angling to celebrate with (at least so-called) Irish food, but wasn’t quite feeling corned beef. As I considered what that would be, it hit me—shepherd’s pie. So, that’s reason number one.
The second reason is that shepherd’s pie has as much claim to Ireland as any other food out there. Unlike current variations of corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie actually is an Irish delicacy.
The third reason? It’s goooooooood. Look, I know St. Paddy’s is in March, which means, meteorologically, it’s spring, but let’s be real. It’s currently 33 degrees as I write this piece. We won’t be barbecuing any time soon. So, a hearty meal that warms you up while filling your belly is just what the doctor ordered after a day of parading and celebration. Given these three reasons, shepherd’s pie actually seems like the perfect St. Patrick’s Day food, even if it isn’t the most popular. As a result, it seems like a reasonable choice for an historical examination.
The problem is, there isn’t much to the history—at least not in a straightforward way. There doesn’t seem to be a singular person, event, place, or circumstance that gave the world shepherd’s pie. Instead, there are bits and pieces of history that, together, and once interpreted, allow the emergence of shepherd’s pie to make sense. So, here’s a brief rundown of those facts:
Those are the facts. Now, before I proceed, I want to make sure we’re clear on what precisely shepherd’s pie is. Here goes. It’s a hearty dish with origins in the United Kingdom and Ireland composed of a ground meat cooked in gravy, onions, carrots, celery, and a mashed potato crust (can be top and bottom, or just top). I told you. It’s a slam dunk meal for a cold St. Paddy’s dinner. Anyway, given the makeup of the dish, and the facts presented above, here’s what’s suspected to have sparked the origin of shepherd’s pie.
Sometime in the 18th century, a dish called “cottage pie” came about somewhere in the vast expanse of the United Kingdom and Ireland. It seems to have originated as a way for folks to make use of leftovers, in order to avoid waste, both of the food and money varieties. Simply put, after making a weekend roast, unused meat was repurposed into a pie using affordable potatoes as a crust. This frugal, albeit clever, meal suggests the name “cottage pie” referred to the consumers of the dish—poor Irish peasants (remember, they lived in cottages). Because the Irish, at the time, typically could not afford beef, I suspect the earliest forms of cottage pie contained mutton, since mutton was a cheaper and more flavorful alternative to either beef or lamb.
This cottage pie was the precursor to shepherd’s pie, which was coined in the middle of the 19th century. For a while it was used interchangeably with cottage pie. However, as time went on, a distinction was made: shepherd’s pie referred to a dish made with lamb (because sheep are tended to by shepherds!), and cottage pie referred to a dish made with beef.
Since Ireland and the UK had such a long union, contentious as it was, both the British and Irish have love for shepherd’s pie, and claim its origins. That being said, if forced, I’d maintain the more traditionally Irish meal is the lamb-made dish known as shepherd’s pie, whereas the British version is the beef-made cottage pie. Why? Because historically the Irish weren’t big beef eaters, and the British were. Plus, this started as a way for folks to make use of sparse and/or inexpensive resources. At the time the dish was invented, given the socio-political context of the United Kingdom and Ireland, it seems likely that the Irish were among (if not predominantly) those who would be looking to make use of their leftovers in such a resourceful way.
There you have it! This St. Patrick’s Day, if you find yourself hankering for something other than corned beef, give shepherd’s pie a serious look. With a flavor profile similar to beef stew, or pot roast, it’s a hearty, warm, and delicious dish to help you refuel after a long day of…whatever it is you do to celebrate. Erin go bragh, and have a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day!
It’s hard to imagine life before espresso, but believe it or not, there was once a tired, latte-less time. The first basic prototype for an espresso machine was invented in Turin, Italy in the 1880s, though it looked more like a hot-water heater than the blinged-out coffee hotrods we see in cafés today, and for good reason—that’s basically all it was, a steam boiler designed to heat water in a closed chamber, which would also build up a reserve of pressure that a waiter or bartender could release over a bed of finely ground coffee.
Those early machines, including the 1905 patent by Luigi Bezzera that modernized and streamlined the design and added more functionality for the human making the coffee (they were not known as baristas until much later), are interesting enough on their own—and we’ll briefly discuss how they work in a moment—but the really interesting thing about the history of espresso comes from tracing the story of coffee drinking all the way from Ethiopia and piecing together how in the world it made its way to Italy.
The beverage we know as coffee has a somewhat mysterious origin, but historians know that first the leaves and the coffee fruit were consumed in and around the area now known as Ethiopia, possibly for hundreds of years, before anybody thought to clean and roast the seeds, pulverize them, and mix them with hot water. At some point in the 15th century, spice traders from the Arabian Peninsula, including the area now recognized as Yemen, encountered coffee plants while traveling through Ethiopia in search of trade, spices, and slaves.
These traders found inspiration for creating the hot, bittersweet, and caffeinated elixir we know as coffee most likely in mystical Islamic beliefs about alchemy, the principle of transforming something worthless into something valuable, as a sign of God’s love for humankind. Well, certainly if anything is a sign that God loves us, it’s coffee. Who’d have thunk that these little grassy-smelling seeds could transform into something so miraculous with a little heat, elbow grease, and water?
This first Ethiopian coffee concoction was originally prepared—and still is, in a traditional service—as a kind of ceremony. It’s conducted by the woman who is the head of a household, and she will call friends, family, and neighbors to join at the table. The coffee seeds are washed and then roasted in a metal pan over a fire, until they turn dark chocolate brown and begin to crackle and smoke. The pan is removed and in its place a pot called a jebena will be filled with water and put on the heat to boil. Often the woman will also toast grains or pop corn to eat with the coffee. While the water heats, she grinds the beans with a mortar and pestle, and then she will add the grounds to the water when it’s ready. The coffee brews for a few minutes before she slowly pours off the liquid in small portions into demitasse like cups, passing them around for the folks who have gathered. In traditional ceremonies, the grounds will be brewed three symbolic times, with each serving poured for the guests; the whole process can take an hour (or more), depending on the company.
Before long, this version of our favorite drink became a staple of social and religious life throughout Ethiopia, Eritrea, and with spice traders and religious Sufi Muslims, but in order for it to really catch on, the process needed a bit of a boost.
Knowing what we now know about the first coffee drink, it will probably be a little easier to connect the dots to what came next: Arabic coffee, sometimes also known as Turkish coffee because of its geographical and cultural associations with the Ottoman Empire. In cities throughout the Arabian Peninsula, then a huge trading hub for the Ottomans, coffee became a staple not of domestic life as in Ethiopia, but in business and political life, outside of the home and in male-dominated spaces. Men would sit in circles on rugs at “coffee houses” and take coffee together to make deals and discuss finances.
Of course, this meant that the men also needed to hustle back to work, so an hourlong ceremony wasn’t going to cut the mustard—even in the days before time clocks and HR departments. In order to speed things up while still retaining some of the legacy and lore of coffee’s alchemical process, a new brewing pot was invented (called an ibrik or a cezve) with a long handle, in which coffee that’s been pulverized to a very fine powder can be boiled in water over a flame more quickly, poured out into small cups, and the grounds re-used as needed.
Typically, the slurry of coffee grounds and water were brought to a vigorous boil three times before being doled out to patrons—thereby keeping some of the symbolic aspects of the coffee while also making a faster, stronger drink. The resulting liquid is thick, intense, and very bittersweet—much more pungent in flavor and concentration than the delicate, almost tea-like coffees of the Ethiopian ceremony.
Small portions of coffee brewed strong, dark, and fast: Can you guess where this is headed?
Related Video: How to Pull the Perfect Espresso
One of the main ports of call along the Ottoman spice route was the Italian city of Venice, which is also a major port city positioned on the Red Sea—a nearly direct route for traders to enter Europe and sell their goods. Starting in the 17th century, Italians would have been exposed to the coffee-drinking cultures that came off the ships, with coffee beans sold as an exotic item alongside garlic and cardamom, etc. Soon, Italians were drinking something like the Arabic coffee, a thick, dense brew that provided a jolt of energy and filled up an empty stomach. As Europe modernized and industrialized, coffee became a necessity to keep production flowing, replacing its status as more of a cultural, religious, or social drink and turning it into fuel for the working classes.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Italy’s industrial revolution was in full force and the urban centers were booming with businesses, factories, and, of course, lots of overworked, underfed, and underpaid employees. Coffee was essential for productivity, but brewing it in the preferred style took took too long and interrupted work too much. Enter Luigi Bezzerra, credited with patenting the first fully functional steam-powered espresso machine. The beast of a boiler was capable of dispensing pressurized hot water over finely ground coffee in a matter of moments, creating a thick, bittersweet brew that immediately became the craze. “Espresso” was born, though whether the name implies the speed or the individual nature of the brews is still debated these more than 100 years later.
One thing that’s not up for debate about espresso, however—and maybe the only thing that’s not up for debate about it—is that it’s changed the way that people have consumed coffee around the world. Italian immigrants brought espresso along with them as they came to the United States, and as early as 1945 a food columnist for New York Herald-Tribune was describing an “exotic” drink found in one of the cozy Italian cafés of the East Village. “Cappucino [sic] is a cup of espresso with steam-heated milk floating lazily over the surface, and that delicate bouquet is just the merest pinch of ground cinnamon,” she wrote, going on to quote the café owner as saying that the think is something “the ladies like very much.”
Throughout the late 1950s and into the 1960s, espresso bars became countercultural hangouts where musicians, poets, and amateur philosophers gathered over black espresso to argue, swap ideas, and collaborate. In the 1970s and 1980s, the drink became emerged as a status symbol for upwardly mobile types who had traveled to Europe and brought back “refined” tastes from holiday, flaunting sophistication by ordering espresso at bars and restaurants and paying high prices for what had once been working-class fuel.
In the early 1980s, Howard Schultz—already the major player at a small but growing Seattle chain called Starbucks—took a trip to Milan and fell in love with the flavor of espresso and the local color in the espresso bars. When he came home, he quickly began transforming Starbucks into an Americanized (that is to say accessible, fast-food-like, and both affordable and seemingly “upscale”) institution, playing on the comfort of the coffeehouse and the chic air that Italian-style drinks offered.
The rest, as they say, is history: Today, espresso is everywhere from the most high-end boutique coffee shops to the average corner store. It can be expensive single-origin special-process coffee at a third-wave café, or it can be the base of any number of fast-food milkshake-like treats ordered across a drive-through window. It’s also easier than ever to make at home, with kitchen units costing anywhere from a couple hundred bucks all the way to a couple thousand.
There’s good news, though: If you need to justify your several-shots-a-day habit, just remind yourself you’re partaking of an ancient ceremony and, you know, paying tribute to the mysterious alchemy of coffee. Liquid gold, baby! Liquid gold.
While you’re probably aware of Veuve Clicquot as a high-end Champagne brand, do you know the story of the woman behind its success?
Champagne brands. With its distinct font and simple but elegant yellow label styling, it is an instantly recognizable marker of a capital-O occasion. Not to mention its flawless execution of everything a Champagne should be: powerful yet elegant; equally fresh in taste and aromatic in bouquet; bound by an exquisite mousse that is at once silky and vivacious. It is doubtlessly la grande dame of the Champagne world, if not the world of wine itself. And this grande dame Champagne in fact has a grande dame in the root of its own story. Those who crave history lessons in empowering women, take note.You know it as one of the most, if not the most, iconic
The very sound of the name Veuve Clicquot invokes a certain air: the mysterious sexiness of the “Veuve”—a lazy vowel bookmarked by those va-va-voom Vs—followed by the precise metronome of the “Clicquot.” But the very name of Veuve Clicquot also tells another story; the history in fact. Or, since International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month are having a moment, should we say the her-story? I studied French for about six years of my life, but “veuve” is not a term one necessarily comes by in routine vocabulary lessons. It’s a word, in fact, one would hope to not to have reason to know.
In French, “veuve” is simply, “widow.”
But the inherent sadness of the Widow Clicquot begins and ends there. Though a widow, she was no crone, and hers is a success story of female empowerment, entrepreneurial spirit, and the good things that come with women in business.
The story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the one-and-only Veuve Clicquot, is one that can be summarized in the very tasting notes of the Champagne brand she rose to prominence: powerful but elegant; strength and silk. She was a young widow of only 27 years of age at the untimely death of her husband, the then-owner of Maison Clicquot, in 1805. The Clicquot brand had been operating for 30 years at this point, and was already internationally quite successful by late 1700s standards.
However, two matters of providence lined up for the brand when François Clicquot passed away: First, that the business and inheritance laws of the time, while prohibiting most women from owning businesses, made no such restrictions on widows specifically. (One imagines that these laws were forged with older women, who would likely just hand over to their sons, in mind, and not feisty twenty-somethings.) Second, that Madame Clicquot was precisely the kind of revolutionary who would retain her right to be involved in the business, and refuse to remove herself from the picture, even in an industry dominated entirely by men at the time. An icon for female entrepreneurs to follow centuries beyond her time.
Also a good thing for the Clicquot name was that the brand’s founder, her father-in-law, was open to her ambition. She audaciously re-named the brand for herself, and by maintaining exacting standards and demonstrating her savviness as a businesswoman, in a few years’ time catapulted it from being merely successful to an international symbol of luxury, where it remains to this day.
A fearless and intelligent business woman, you have Madame Clicquot to thank for innovations that lead to clarified Champagne—the secondary fermentation process in sparkling wine production naturally leaves the wine cloudy with yeast sediment—as well as rosé Champagne. (Hell yeah pink bubbles were figured out by a lady.) The processes she invented to achieve both of these qualities are exactly what continue to be in use today.
The legacy of Madame Clicquot continues with the Champagne brand awarding The Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award and New Generation Award every year since 1972, to recognize the achievements of female leaders among all fields who demonstrate similar leadership and entrepreneurial ambition.
Women continue to make strides in every aspect of winemaking today, though it is still largely a man’s vineyard out there. But this month let us not forget that the top-of-the-line bar was set some 200+ years ago by a woman, with the very beverage that has its use worldwide for congratulatory purposes. This Women’s History Month, Madame Clicquot, a toast to you.
Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label (price varies), on Drizly
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To most, Mardi Gras is synonymous with certain foods and places—king cake and New Orleans top the list, of course. Many people probably don’t think immediately (if at all) of MoonPies and Mobile, Alabama, but in fact, they both have a long-standing connection with Fat Tuesday.
The very first Mardi Gras celebration in the United States was in Mobile, Alabama, all the way back in 1703, well before New Orleans was even founded (in 1718). The early processions weren’t quite the grand spectacles you see today, but they were the start of it all, and little by little, lots of specific Mardi Gras parade traditions were established and added to. Most of them are still a vital part of the celebrations.
Take, for instance, “throws”—the trinkets thrown from floats to all the people watching on the sidelines. The custom seems to have started in the 1870s, and although beads may be the most well-known throw today, there are lots of other items tossed to spectators too, from plastic cups and foam footballs to food.
Perhaps the most popular edible item that gets chucked into the crowd is the MoonPie (which, despite auto-correct’s insistence on underlining it in red squiggles, is the official spelling). Obviously, this is a relatively recent evolution of the long-standing “throws” tradition, since MoonPies are a 20th century foodstuff.
The MoonPie—two soft graham cracker cookies sandwiching squishy-but-stable marshmallow filling, all enrobed in a thin, chocolatey shell—came to be in 1917, when a traveling salesman from the Chattanooga Bakery encountered a Kentucky coal miner who expressed a desire for a hearty, portable snack, about the size of the moon. The famous result of that request was the MoonPie, which cost just 5 cents when it was introduced, and quickly became a hallowed Southern snack. In the 1950s, the classic combo of MoonPies and RC Cola (another good bang-for-your-buck convenience store staple) was even immortalized in a country song by Big Bill Lister.
The Chattanooga Bakery eventually added the miniature MoonPie to their offerings, allegedly in response to parents’ grumblings that the full-size pies were ruining their kids’ appetites. Happily, these smaller treats would also prove to be perfect for throwing into crowds.
So Mardi Gras and MoonPies both became beloved Southern institutions over the course of many decades, on separate paths. But how did those paths meet?
Well, that was in Mobile, too, where grand Mardi Gras parades continued to be held, even though New Orleans’ celebrations eventually eclipsed them in national and global recognition.
Cracker Jack had long been a popular Mardi Gras throw; it was affordable enough to give away and delicious enough to appeal to most everyone, but the bulky boxes were hard to aim accurately and the corners could be painful when they hit people in the head. It was such a problem that Mobile banned the tossing of Cracker Jack boxes in 1972. Smaller, softer, blessedly round MoonPies were a safer option, and they were already a long-cherished Southern delight, so they became the standard sweet treat thrown off of floats in Mobile. Once again, New Orleans followed suit—so if you’re in the Big Easy for the occasion, you’re likely to catch at least one MoonPie when you cry, “Throw me something, mister!” And of course, you can still snatch them from the air in Mobile, too.
Related Reading: The Best New Orleans Food to Order Online for Fat Tuesday
Since the introduction of the classic chocolate flavor, there have been other members added to the MoonPie family (banana, coconut, salted caramel, and strawberry), and while they’re all good as-is, if you’re near a microwave, try heating one up for a few seconds, so it’s a little like an inside-out s’more. But if you’re a bit more ambitious, you can also enjoy more elaborate desserts inspired by (and sometimes actually using) MoonPies—just the thing for a Mardi Gras party at home!
These homemade MoonPies combine whole wheat graham cracker cookies, fluffy marshmallow, bittersweet chocolate, and rich caramel. (If you’re gluten-free, just add some caramel to these GF Moon Pies if you like.) Get Sass and Veracity’s Caramel Moon Pies recipe.
Banana pudding is another Southern dessert staple, but this ingenious version switches out the usual vanilla wafers for classic chocolate and banana MoonPies (plus, there are several other amazing Mardi Gras treats at the link, including a MoonPie Martini and King Cake MoonPies). Get Mobile Bay Mag’s Banana Moon Pie Trifle recipe.
If you love a layer cake but prefer banana MoonPies, try this recipe. For chocolate diehards, this beauty really takes the…well, you know. Feel free to make extra ganache and fully cover the sides of the cake for a more traditional MoonPie look (and in order to eat more chocolate too, always a plus). Get Cake by Courtney’s Marshmallow Moon Cake recipe.
Chunks of MoonPie generously stud this creamy brown butter ice cream, for a sophisticated yet unpretentious dessert. Get Feast and West’s Brown Butter Moon Pie Ice Cream recipe.
For a fancier inside-out version that’s all made from scratch, try these chocolate peanut butter Moon Pies, but if you’re a fan of shortcuts, twist apart some Golden Oreos and add marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, and Nutella, then sandwich back together and dip in chocolate bark. Feel free to skip the Nutella and/or scrape out the original creme filling if you think this might be too sweet. Get The Domestic Rebel’s Golden Oreo Peanut Butter Moon Pies recipe.MoonPie Bread Pudding with RC Cola Sauce recipe.
I’m not a big drinker. Perhaps because of this, I’m also not a huge partier. So, the carnival aspects of Mardi Gras never had much appeal to me. The eating aspects, however? Now we’re talking! Mardi Gras, translated from French to mean “fat Tuesday,” refers to the final day before the Christian season of Lent, where many of the faithful fast. Which means Mardi Gras is the last day to…indulge (i.e. stuff your face) in all your favorite goodies before giving them up in prayerful contemplation. As if I needed an excuse for food to be the highlight of any holiday. Still, there it is!
When I think of Mardi Gras, I think Cajun and Creole foods (yes, they are different). And there’s really nothing more universally Cajun and Creole than jambalaya. Ah, jambalaya. Just imagining it makes me feel like Newman from “Seinfeld” must have felt while taking a big whiff of his recently purchased bowl, and excitedly exclaiming, “Jambalaya!” before giddily running off to eat it. Rice? Protein? Veggies? Savory seasoning? A complete dish, with the taste to match. It’s a veritable powerhouse food!
That said, it’s odd and somewhat confusing that Newman obtained his jambalaya from a soup joint. Why? Because jambalaya is most certainly not a soup. That’s gumbo. While sharing similarities with gumbo, jambalaya is a rice dish. Actually, in its truer forms, it sort of reminds me of paella, and there’s good reason for that. But, wait! Paella is a Spanish dish, and Louisiana has its roots in French culture. Right? Right. Well, sort of.
While Louisiana has strong French roots, there was a time in the region’s history when the Spanish held control—from 1762 to 1800, to be precise. Prior to that, the French held control after settling in the area. Then, in 1800, the Louisiana Territory came under Napoleon’s control (and therefore rejoined the French empire), though the Spanish were still heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the state—at least until 1803. At that point, Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States by way of the Louisiana Purchase.
That 38 years, while relatively short in the grand scheme of things, was plenty of time for Spain to leave its mark on local cuisine. By many accounts, during this time of Spanish control, they sought to bring flavors from their culture to their new home. In trying to make paella near New Orleans, they encountered one significant snag. They couldn’t find saffron. To get around this, they used something that was more plentiful—tomatoes. And so, red jambalaya, also known as Creole jambalaya, was born.
Even though Spain controlled the area in the late 18th century, there was still a lot of French influence, which only grew when France reacquired the territory at the beginning of the 19th century. As that happened, the French brought new spices from the Caribbean and infused them into local cuisine, which, by then, included jambalaya. From there, the current flavor profile of modern jambalaya began to take hold.
As the dish gained in popularity, a new region-specific style of jambalaya emerged—brown, or Cajun, jambalaya. As you moved away from the big city, tomatoes became pretty sparse, so it wasn’t a reasonable ingredient to include. This alternative style included seasoning, oil, and different types of seafood or meat found throughout the region. The original varieties of the Cajun style include vegetables like onion and peppers, but newer, simplified versions sometimes do without.
The final piece of the puzzle, the inclusion of sausage, came about as more Germans immigrated to the region beginning in the 18th century. By the 1840s and 1850s, German immigration to Louisiana was at an all-time high. Similar to the Spanish before them, German immigrants brought elements of their culture to their new home, including their penchant for sausage-making. Before long, sausage found its way into the regional fare, which, of course, included jambalaya.
So, there you have it! Jambalaya, a signature dish of Louisiana, was the result of three distinct cultures coming together to share old world know-how, and region-specific ingredients to create something both remarkable and unique. Hopefully you get to enjoy a hearty plate sometime soon. Have a fun and safe Mardi Gras, folks!