It’s Mardi Gras! While Halloween may be underplayed in France, Mardi Gras certainly isn’t. A tradition stemming largely from the Middle Ages, children and teenagers (and even some adults) giddily dress up in all kinds of colorful costumes for a day of festive revelry. No trick-or-treating or candies for this celebration; instead, French tradition calls for chocolate-smeared, sugar-sprinkled and jam-filled crêpes.
Mardi Gras, commonly known as Fat or Strove Tuesday, goes hand-in-hand with Carnival, a wild festival which has origins in ancient Rome and Greece. Back then, for example, pagan celebrations honoring the gods Dionysus and Bacchus (Greek and Roman gods of wine), were a time of fun and drunken merriment. Another celebration from ancient Rome, the Festival of Saturn, gave citizens the chance to dress up as members of the society that they were not (the rich as the poor, women as men, slaves as masters). Such festivities became closer to the Carnival we know today with the rise of Christianity. Christians supposedly adopted the pagan tradition of rowdy merry making, incorporating it into their own religious practices. The word “carnival” comes from the Latin “carne vale,” which roughly translates as “farewell flesh.” In medieval times, Carnival would have been the last chance to eat meat before Lent.
Carnival is still celebrated around the world today and ends with Mardi Gras. The Fat Tuesday we know today (complete with feasting, costumes and revelry) is, thus, a combination of both Pagan and Christian festivities. The actual date changes each year, depending on Easter. It always falls the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which begins the 40 days of Lent. It is said that “Fat Tuesday” is so-named because of the tradition of using up all the butter, oil, eggs and cream in the house before the fasting period. Thus, the French tradition of making and eating such goodies as fried beignets and crêpes.
Here’s my most-recent (and easy) crêpe recipe:
What’s probably already in your cupboard
½ liter whole milk (or less)
250 grams all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon melted, unsalted butter
1. Beat eggs and add about half the milk.
2. Begin adding the flour/salt and mix, alternating with more milk, until all the flour is used up and you get a thick ribbon of batter when you lift up the whisk.
3. Add the melted butter.
4. Let batter sit in the fridge for several hours (this helps it settle and really does make the crêpes easier to cook).
5. If needed, add a little more milk just before cooking.
5. Cook (kind of like pancakes) on an appropriate crêpe pan or other hot skillet (there’s a whole spreading/flipping technique, but that merits another post entirely…).
Make lots and enjoy with your favorite toppings.