Before I met my husband I had no idea about the simple pleasure that comes from eating an oyster po-boy and gulping down an ice-cold Barq's root beer from a bottle. I thought Mardi Gras parades were only in New Orleans, and what the heck were you supposed to do with a crawfish?
Over the years, I've come to appreciate and admire the customs and culture that define the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It's a community of tight-knit family and friends. It's so tight, in fact, that if you're an outsider looking in you don't know if the man referred to as Uncle Jack is friend or an actual blood relative. In my husband's case, Jack had no brothers or sisters, so he shared my father-in-law's four siblings; therefore, he earned the title Uncle.
Often, folks living away will talk about how the Coast pulls you back. "It's the water; it gets in your blood," is a phrase I hear from countless Coast natives. For those natives that live away from their hometown, such as my husband and others, there's a connection that always brings them together, and that connection was so clearly evident last Aug. 29, 2005.
The days, weeks and months that followed Hurricane Katrina proved to me that the spirit of the Mississippi Gulf Coast will always continue to thrive. Although homes might be gone and a sea of blue tarps may drape across the roofs of entire neighborhoods, the importance of getting back to family traditions is a top priority for many.
So much of the culture that makes the Coast unique is found in its cuisine. While locations for family gatherings might have changed for some, you'll still find the same traditional foods that have been carried down for generations. The gumbo that my husband's aunts make every Fourth of July just wouldn't taste the same had it not been cooked in the same pot his grandmother had used for years. For many, the pots might be gone, but the recipes remain the same. Whether or not it's Granny's gumbo or a fried oyster po-boy from the Fayard's BP, the comfort of coastal cuisine brings a sense of the familiar to a region that's having to reestablish itself.
Seeing the message "We'll Be Back" on the side wall of Mary Mahoney's restaurant in downtown Biloxi confirmed to me that the spirit of the Mississippi Coast will never falter. While it was still surrounded by debris, Mary Mahoney's re-opened, serving her savory gumbo and decadent bread pudding.
Here's my take on a classic Coast dessert: bread pudding served with a bourbon cinnamon sauce. Save a little bourbon for yourself and give a toast to the Coast.