A southern Renaissance man, Eugene Walter was a pioneering food writer, a champion of southern foodways and culture, and a legendary personality among food lovers. The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink, which introduces a new generation of readers to Walter’s culinary legacy, is a revelation to anyone interested in today’s booming scene in vintage and artisanal drinks—from bourbon and juleps to champagne and punch—and a southern twist on America’s culinary heritage.
We love turning to Walter’s writing in times of festivity, for the man knew how to have a good time. In this season of carnival, as we approach the indulgences of Fat Tuesday and the restraint that follows, Donald Goodman, who manages the Walter estate and co-edited The Happy Table, has recovered some of Walter’s writings from 1948 on the subject of Mardi Gras:
Mobile, Alabama is traditionally a city of festivities. Always there has been some annual celebration on an elaborate city-wide scale, more often than not a spontaneous native combustion born of Creole high spirits in a charming provincial capital whose setting alternates in mood between English garden and Gauguin jungle.
The history of Mardi Gras along the Gulf Coast dates back to 1700 with the influence of French culture and the celebration of Carnival. The period of Carnival begins on Twelfth Night and ends on Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday.” During this time everyone enjoys spirits, food, and parties because on Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, the worldly pleasures of the flesh give way to denial and contemplation of the soul.
Most celebrants are more than ready for such with their contemplation being, “Never again, oh my head!”
And from The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink, we share this delightful recommendation for winding down the carnival season.
Pour le matin apres le bal masque
For ladies who are feeling delicate after a carnival ball or wedding party, or horse race, or visits from out-of-town cousins, the following julep-type freshener, from Monroeville, Alabama, is the perfect medicine.
- 1 cup rose petals
- 1 ripe peach
- 1 piece crystallized ginger
- 1/4 cup cane sugar
- White rum
- Champagne sec
Pick petals from old-fashioned, strongly perfumed roses in early morning. Put them into a bowl with a very ripe peach chopped fine, 1 finely chopped piece of crystallized ginger, and a little cane sugar. Pour a cup or so of the very best white rum over this mélange. Let sit at least an hour or so. Strain and chill. Dilute with best French Champagne sec and serve in thoroughly chilled Champagne glasses. If this is before noon, serve very hot, buttered, coarse-ground grits on a dainty plate after one such julep, then serve several more juleps.
Recipe from The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink, edited by Donald Goodman and Thomas Head. Copyright © 2011 by Donald Walter Goodman.