Ladders, ice chests, and lawn chairs line the street side as local families and visiting tourists gear up for the onslaught of Mardi Gras parades. Thousands of festive people prepare to hit the parade routes and clamor for any trinkets, beads, and doubloons from the passing floats. These are the images of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. While there are many who dress in costume for their favorite parade every year, there are a few parade fanatics who traditonally enjoy their unique "poison" on the parade route.
As their Mardi Gras custom, Scott Ertel and his family host an open house party for the night of the Endymion parade featuring his homemade beer. "We live about two blocks from the Endymion parade route," said Ertel, who started home brewing about four years ago. "Typically, I have four or five different beers on tap at each party. It sounds like a lot, but these kegs are only 5 gallons each, whereas a commercial keg is about 15."
After experimenting with different grains, hops and yeasts, Ertel expanded his brewing expertise and concentrates on making a variety of beers for most of the year, from September to January.
"I like my beer to reflect the season," said Ertel. "I haven't quite determined what this Mardi Gras beer should be, but I don't think it should be strong because you are going to drink a lot of it. I do think it should be festive."
Last year, Ertel brewed a blonde ale with a hint of vanilla. He mentioned that he transports at least one keg of his homemade "poison" to the parade route for everyone to enjoy.
A couple of blocks away on the Endymion parade route, James Karst and his family also open their house to family and friends for their annual party which proudly displays his customary homemade kingcake. After more than five years, Karst has perfected his rendition of "galette des rois," the classic French buttery puff pastry that is round in shape and filled with an almond cream.
"We always have a king cake for the Endymion parade," said Karst. " I hide a whole almond in it for the lucky person to find it. It makes it fun for my three sons who are five, three and one years old."
Karst bakes his French king cakes with a glossy finish and draws a special pattern on the top of it with a cookie cutter or knife. One year, he made a fleur de lis design on the traditional puff pastry. "I enjoy making the king cakes for the parades," said Karst. "Even if there is leftovers, we all love to eat it for breakfast."
Whether it is a culinary treat or a decadent drink, avid parade goers are passionate about their "poisons," which they bring and consume on the parade route. Virginia Blanque would consider herself to be a parade pioneer with her notorious king cake shots.
My King cake jello-shots are my jewels for the parades.
"My King cake jello-shots are my jewels for the parades and at my home party," said Blanque, who has created these shots for the past four years. "These gems (shots) must sparkle like rare jewels (purple, green and peach gel made with King cake flavored vodka). Less liquid means less trips to the port-o-potty."
Blanque begins her process of mixing up her jello-shot concotion in the final week of the Mardi Gras season. She admits that she makes about 300 two-ounce shots for her family and friends to share while watching the parades. "We live on the Endymion parade route and love it," said Blanque. "For the King cake jello-shots, I pick the mix. This year, a white cream soda cocktail not made with cream soda may be the new creation. The mixer is still shaking."
Another group that indulges in jello-shots on the parade route are the 60 ladies who march with Muses parade, the Camel Toe Lady Steppers. Casey Love, one of its founding members, said as a tradition, colored jello-shots are distributed to the ladies as they prepare to march with a live brass band in Muses.
"Every year, a committee gets together to make about 700 jello shots for the 80-90 people marching in the parade," said Love, a professor at Tulane University. "We come up with a new theme that influences the costumes and choreography like 'camel toe cha-cha' with a Latin dance."
So, whether you are having a party at your house or a gathering on the street, local people and tourists agree that everyone has their own traditional food and drink for entertainment during Mardi Gras. As you plan your menu of enjoyment for the Mardi Gras season, what "poison" do you pick for the parade route?