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By Luella Fischer
In the 1840s, St. Louis was a growing city and was beginning to settle in the area known as Frenchtown. At the time, the community was made up of common fields and farms owned by French immigrants, whose food and customs reflected their homeland.
As the city developed, French landowners were staking land and organizing lots to grant ownership. Upon one landowner’s death in 1845, Julia Cerre Soulard granted two acres in the condition that it would be used as a farmers’ market. After decades of struggle, Soulard went under reconstruction and by the 1980s, the community gave birth to two small street festivals honoring its French heritage: Mardi Gras and Bastille Day.
Today, the neighborhood holds true to its roots, housing a large and diverse farmers market, and the streets of Soulard scream celebration in preparation of Mardis Gras.
An abundance of Cajun and creole inspired food is part of the celebratory tradition. The famous “king cake” is a popular French tradition enjoyed throughout Mardis Gras celebrations and on Fat Tuesday. A ritual that dates back to the Middle Ages, the cinnamon confection is made of braided Danish pastry.
In addition to the king cake, St. Louis’s McArthurs Bakery on Lemay Ferry Road offers fun and festive Mardis Gras treats. Paczki, a special sugarcoated, fruit-filled pastry made with rich dough, is available for a limited time as a Fat Tuesday special. Long ago, in Polish households, paczki were prepared to use up remaining shortening, eggs, and preserves prior to the Lenten season. Today, it is enjoyed as a last minute indulgence and has become a St. Louis tradition. Other Cajun inspired cuisine includes jambalaya, crawfish, red beans, shrimp gumbo, and creole.
Did you know?
- In an old English custom, local nobles would toss candies and glass beads to peasants when they paraded through the village.
- The colors of Mardis Gras stand for justice (purple), faith (green), and power (gold).
- The concept to enjoy courses in succession, rather than all at once, was introduced in Versailles by King Louis XIV. The Sun King encouraged the servants to bring one dish at a time. Also during this period, silverware became a part of the dining experience.
- Historical French cuisine consisted of spiced meats such as pork, beef, poultry, and fish. Presentation played a vital role in all meal preparation.
To take part in Soulard Mardi Gras events and view a list of activities, concerts and parades, check out this site.
To enjoy good eats and spirits at Soulard area restaurants and pubs, visit this website.
Cajun Chicken Pasta
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced
- 6 green onions, sliced
- Minced garlic, to taste
- 4 cups diced cooked chicken
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 can of mushroom soup
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 12 ounces linguini pasta, cooked according to package directions
- In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the mushrooms and peppers in butter until the vegetables are tender and mushrooms are lightly browned.
- Add the green onions, minced garlic, and chicken, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
- Stir in the Cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, and black pepper; cook, stirring, for another minute.
- Add the soup, milk, and tomatoes, and ring to a simmer.
- Stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and the cooked pasta, and heat through.
- 3 bacon slices
- 16-ounce package frozen okra
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Hot cooked rice (optional)
- Cook bacon in a Dutch oven until crisp.
- Remove bacon, and drain on paper towels, reserving drippings. Crumble bacon, and set aside.
- Cook okra and next 6 ingredients in hot drippings in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
- Top with crumbled bacon.
- Serve over rice, if desired.
Mardi Gras King Cake
- 1 cup milk
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 2/3 cups warm water
- ½ cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 5 ½ cup flour
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- ¾ cup pecans
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup butter
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 to 2 tablespoons warm water
- Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water with 1 tablespoon of white sugar. Let stand until a foamy texture (10 minutes).
- When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk and egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
- To prepare filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.
- Roll dough halves out into large rectangles. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Frost while warm with a powdered sugar and warm water mixture.
Luella Fischer enjoys writing and has a passion for cooking and Missouri history. She is also the author of a children’s book series and directs a Missouri Farmers Care agriculture education program where third graders have the opportunity to make bread, plant seeds, and experience food and agriculture hands-on.