Although the pronunciation of “mirliton” may be debated, the popularity of this versatile squash on New Orleans tables is beyond question.
The 25th annual Mirliton Festival, which takes place this Saturday, pays homage to the beloved vegetable.
The event began as a neighborhood gathering at Bud Rip’s Old Ninth Ward Bar on Piety Street but has grown into a thriving fête.
This year, the organizers are shaking things up a bit.
The performance stage, along with an information booth and beverage stands, will be located in Mickey Markey Park.
Activities and participating restaurants, however, will be spread throughout the Bywater neighborhood.
Festival attendees can take a free pedicab ride from the park to their preferred destination.
“I’m excited about the neighborhood-wide aspect, because in years past, with limited space and a limited number of booths, we were put into a position where we would have to tell some people that they couldn’t be in the festival,” said Randy Stephens, the chairman of the festival committee and treasurer of the Bywater Neighborhood Association.
“Now, anyone who wants to participate can do so. And that’s really the best part of it.”
The participating restaurants will serve festival-priced mirliton dishes and reveal the variety of ways that the vegetable can be prepared.
Innovative food options include mirliton “yum yums” from Sugar Park, crab-stuffed mirlitons from Jack Dempsey’s and mirliton pizza from Pizza Delicious.
Mariza will serve grilled mirliton bruschetta topped with roasted corn, duck cracklins’ and tomatoes, while Suis Generis presents smoked mirliton pepper pasta with jumbo shrimp and Crystal cream sauce.
Abita beer, Bywater Bomber daiquiris and other beverages can be purchased in Mickey Markey Park. This also is where the music performances will take place.
Stephens noted that there will be an hour-long gap in between each act, however, so that fest-goers can venture off to one of the aforementioned restaurants.
“They’re going to have plenty of time to leave the park, get something to eat, see some of the other sites, and still be back in time to see some of their favorite bands,” he said.
The festival will keep the music catered to people who have some sort of connection to Bywater, since it is a Bywater Neighborhood Association event.
The members of the four bands on the performance list — One Love Brass Band, Daria and the Hip Drops, Social Set, and Strange Roux — live in the area.
In addition to food and music, the Piety Street Market, 612 Piety Street, will sell arts and crafts. The Alvar Library is planning to stage festival-related events, along with such businesses as Bon Castor, Christopher Porché West and Time Will Tell.
Guests can grab a map that depicts the location of each business, in Mickey Markey Park.
And, Mirlitons.org will be on hand to provide festival patrons with fresh Louisiana mirlitons, seedlings, recipes and growing tips.
“Our mission is to renew the popularity of mirlitons as a backyard vegetable, and do research on the best ways to cultivate it and use it,” said Lance Hill, the founder of Mirlitons.org and the executive director of Tulane University’s Southern Institute for Education and Research.
Hill, who has grown mirlitons for nearly 30 years, explained that the mirliton — a member of the gourd family — is one of the only perennial vegetables in North America. Once one is planted, it will produce for decades; 200 to 300 mirlitons will come off of a single vine once the vine has matured.
“The festival is a wonderful project because it encourages people to grow locally and buy locally,” Hill said. “My goal is to have a mirliton in every backyard.
“People will find that they’re really fun to grow.”