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Around the Bluhmin’ Town

02/21/18

Last week to usher in Mardi Gras, my friend invited me on Fat Tuesday to a ladies luncheon and served King Cake. Dear Readers, this is a very weird looking cake (sort of bready with thick purple, green and yellow frosting smeared on top) that also contains a choking hazard. That’s right, chew slowly, check carefully and don’t swallow too quickly because if you are the lucky one, you will have the plastic baby Jesus inside your slice.
I had heard about this New Orleans tradition but had never actually participated. It was quite thrilling because when we were all eating our cake, a lady screamed like she had won the lottery! Yes, she had bit into the baby Jesus and now would be “crowned” (or she might need a new crown for her broken tooth) and given the solemn duty of having to bake next year’s King Cake.  I wanted to learn more.
The King Cake dates back centuries to Old European pagan festivals when a bean would be hidden inside a cake. In Medieval France, the cake became associated with Christianity and the Epiphany, and was called, “Galette des Rois,” or King Cake. The hidden bean remained as a symbol of Jesus.
From France to Louisiana, the King Cake was brought along as a cherished annual tradition. Still hiding a bean inside the cake batter, a traveling salesman approached a New Orleans bakery in the 1950's. It seems he had a huge supply of little plastic babies. Why not place one in every King Cake as the baby Jesus and forget the bean? And a new tradition was started and lives on today.
New Orleans is a magical place and Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is the last day of the Carnival season and it always falls the day before Ash Wednesday. In other words, last week was the time eat, drink, party, indulge in cake and watch the parades. And throw those beads to anyone and everyone. Why purple, green and gold? Purple stands for justice, green for faith and gold for power, and the folks of New Orleans (and the visitors) love those beads.
Sadly in 2017, the City of New Orleans had to clean up 46 tons of Mardi Gras beads that were found clogging the water catch basins and then rolling down the drain to the sewers! Hey, this is a city below sea level and has had flooding issues! Stop throwing those beads! At least people don’t throw the plastic baby Jesus from the King Cakes at each other, because that would be a very disturbing sight.
There is something “a world apart” about a visit to Louisiana. But you don’t have to travel far if you have a few friends who like to bake. Throw a plastic baby in the batter, and when out of the oven smear a bunch of purple, green and yellow frosting all over it (sort of looks like a child’s art project). Then add the same color sprinkles to make it look even more delicious (gaudy).
Mardi Gras passed, but not all the fun. Bake a cake, shake some beads, celebrate, And if you are lucky, you will find Jesus.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at judy@judybluhm.com.