It’s funny how much you learn when you move to a new place—so many little things that even folks who’ve lived there forever wouldn’t think to mention. For example, I’ve learned it is possible, in Mississippi, to have both tornados and snow in the forecast for the same day.
Also in Mississippi, mosquitos hang around until late November (at least) and return promptly in January. I got my first mosquito bite of 2016 just last week.
But my favorite discovery by far has been that, in Mississippi, king cake is a thing. Sure, I’d heard of king cakes in New Orleans before, but I never realized how many I’d find in north Mississippi until I moved here.
Now, I’m not certain that Oxford necessarily counts as king cake country, per se, but there are enough folks here with connections to the tradition to keep it thriving. In fact, for the first time in my three years here, I even spied them in Kroger this week. As is often the case with traditions, though, a different context may require a bit of adaptation.
For instance, one cannot buy a tiny, plastic baby Jesus in Oxford, Mississippi.
Last year, this wasn’t an issue for me because my four-year-old daughter found the idea of baking a baby into a cake quite unsettling. We opted for a Lego mini-figure instead. The mini-figure got misplaced while we waited for the dough to rise.
This year a baby was essential. I was baking the king cake for my son’s third grade class, since they are learning about Mardi Gras traditions this week. A baby-less king cake is not an option in an educational setting.
So, after scouring every possible store in Oxford for a tiny, plastic baby Jesus and coming up empty-handed, I turned to the one person I knew could hook me up: Rebecca Cleary. (You might remember Rebecca as the colleague who put together this killer New Orleans playlist for our summer symposium last year.) Her response?
Of course! I have a whole bowl full of babies!”
A whole bowl full of babies. For the win.
Obstacle number two: purple sprinkles. I can actually understand how a small, non-Louisiana town might not carry tiny, plastic baby Jesuses. But for two years running, I have been unable to locate purple sprinkles in Oxford, Mississippi. I can’t come up with any logical reason for this. Instead, I’ve come up with alternatives.
Last year, we opted for purple bead-shaped decorations to compliment the yellow and green sprinkles. For our first cake this year, we just threw on some multi-colored stars (because, why not?). For this last one, I couldn’t find yellow or purple sprinkles, so I colored the icing instead.
There’s a reason that last photo only shows the bowls of icing. Thankfully, my only judges are a class full of third-graders.
While I await the verdict, I’ll leave you with another bit of advice I’ve gleaned from my new home state: It is wise to keep abreast of your friends’ and colleagues’ king cake plans.
When I brought my first king cake to SFA World Headquarters last year, I discovered Mary Beth Lasseter had also just mailed one up from Vicksburg. That afternoon, an email circulated through Barnard Observatory announcing a third king cake down in the kitchen.
I’m not sure who got all the babies. Perhaps they’re in a bowl somewhere.
But we all got plenty of cake.