In New Orleans and Louisiana you can find a festival for just about anything that can be pulled out of the water or grown in the garden. In keeping with that tradition, residents of the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans got together in 1989 and started a festival paying tribute to the mirliton.
Every year the Mirliton Festival is held on the first Saturday in November at Mickey Markey Park, Piety and Royal streets in the Bywater. Admission is free! The festival runs from 11:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m. and is easily reachable from the French Quarter and downtown. The site is only about a mile or so from the French Quarter but, if you're not up for the walk, a taxi or pedicab will be happy to take you there.
And, as is the case with nearly all Louisiana festivals, this family-friendly event celebrates food, music and art, with a lot of good ole fun mixed in. The goal of this event is to highlight the Bywater neighborhood's unique culture and share it with the rest of the city during a day of local music, food and art.
The Bywater is a small, compact enclave, sandwiched in between the Faubourg Marigny and the Industrial Canal astride the Mississippi River levee (hence the name, "By the Water"). In recent years, the Bywater has become a hip place to live, attracting artists, musicians, writers and others of a creative bent. Old warehouses, shotgun homes and other structures have been renovated and transformed into both living and working space for their creative occupants.
Now, what is a mirliton, you might be asking? First of all, let's start with the pronunciation. Most locals pronounce it mel-a-tonn. A member of the gourd family, its technical name is chayote, and it is native to Central and South America. Introduced here during the French and Spanish settlement of the 18th century, mirlitons take root easily in the region's rich, alluvial soil and many people grow them in their home gardens.
The mirliton is a pear-shaped, wrinkled, light-green vegetable that grows on a vine and offers very little in the way of flavor. However, when stuffed with seafood and bread crumbs, this humble vegetable takes on a unique flavor. Stuffed mirlitons have been a staple on Creole menus and family tables in New Orleans for generations.
And, of course, being the "title sponsor" of the festival, as well as its "star," the mirliton is featured in many unique ways during the event. Food vendors offer a wide variety of mirliton dishes, and artists depict the quirky vegetable in some of their work.
Proceeds from the festival are put back into the community by supporting the Bywater Neighborhood Association and projects that it contributes to such as Alvar Arts, neighborhood beautification, Fringe Festival, Good Children's Easter Parade and other worthy causes.
For more detailed information about the Mirliton Festival visit their website at www.bywatermirlitonfestival.com.