Here ye, here ye, Mardi Gras Season has officially begun! (I know, Fat Tuesday is three weeks away but that’s just how they roll in New Orleans. So many parades, so little time.) To ring in the party, the locals annually cut the ribbon with a King Cake. It’s a longstanding tradition, and its history – described here [www.mardigrasunmasked.com], here [www.mauricefrenchpastries.com], and here [www.mardigrasdigest.com] – may explain why Mardi Gras season starts so early. It’s not ALL about partying! It goes way back to a French religious tradition that transformed itself Louisiana style.

Typically, each King Cake carries within its sweet, flaky dough a little plastic Baby Jesus. If you’re the lucky recipient when you bite into your slice, you become responsible for providing your friends with the next cake.

And so there is an endless supply of the stuff, which is apparently why the students seem to be eating King Cake for breakfast every morning. I have to admit, they scare me (the cake and the students.) I’d much prefer a coffee and beignet! You too? Next time you’re in the neighborhood, try Cafe du Monde [www.cafedumonde.com], the most popular spot in the Quarter.

The funny thing is, there have been so many accidental broken teeth and/or swallowing of plastic babies, that in order to keep the tradition alive and litigation-free, the baby now comes taped to the inside of the box. The consumer is required to “insert” the plastic baby inside the cakes themselves, so no one is “taken off guard” and sues the cake company. Thank you, modern America, for your contribution to the King Cake history.

Rachel Clift