King Cake in Mardi Gras of 1921

Mardi Gras is a festival that has been celebrated for hundreds of years. This festival brings people together to enjoy great floats, costumes, beads, food and music. Mardi Gras is extremely popular in Louisiana, especially in New Orleans. New Orleans has been the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States since the mid-late 1800s. The Mardi Gras season usually lasts for about a month, starting around January 6th to February 8th and throughout this time period parades, banquets, parties etc., are taking place. New Orleans has always been a major attraction during Mardi Gras because of its unique style of floats and costumes. Music is probably the most popular attraction for Mardi Gras, but food is right behind it and during the time of Mardi Gras, King Cake is the most important.

King Cake is an extremely popular pastry that is made during the Mardi Gras time period. It first originated in Europe and was celebrated as “…the revelation of the newborn Jesus Christ as God incarnate during the visit of the three Magi.” Although, the King Cake that was eaten then contained mostly almonds and other nuts, instead of the fillings that it has today. “In France it was celebrated with a pastry called galette des rois meaning ‘cake of the kings,’ a tradition that the French colonial outpost of New Orleans inherited.”  So it originated from France and was given to Kings to eat as a dessert and that is where the name King Cake comes from. The Dessert is well renowned nowadays, but for a long time it was not talked or eaten that much. King Cake did not come into New Orleans until the 1860s and that is when Mardi Gras just started becoming more popular because it was during the Reconstruction period and people were starting to move to New Orleans because of its growth and job opportunities. This gave King Cake a lot of opportunity to become well known due to the growth of the city and its newness in the area, which would allow people to try the “new thing in town.”

An advertisement of King Cake by the O’Keefe’s Cake bakery, which was in operation in 1921.

King Cake is always talked about when it comes to Mardi Gras, but in reality it is more of a Twelfth Night dessert – at least it was in 1921. It is talked about more when included with Mardi Gras because Mardi Gras has a bigger brand, more well known and celebrated more than the Twelfth Night. But King Cake is eaten and celebrated more around Twelfth Night than it is Mardi Gras because the French Catholics celebrated their “Epiphany” on January 6th and that is when the dish “galette des rois” was served and that day is what is now known as Fat Tuesday. In 1921, there were three major bakeries that were advertised king cakes and they were Young’s Bakery, O’ Keefe’s and Wm. Sehrt & Son. These were the most popular bakeries in the New Orleans area that baked King Cakes and the most surprising thing is that these advertisements were in the newspaper on January 6th instead throughout the Mardi Gras time period. This helps explain that they were a Twelfth Night dessert and not just a Mardi Gras dish.

A traditional, modern-day King Cake, sporting purple green and gold coloring and decorated with Mardi Gras beads.

Typically King Cake is presented as a breaded pastry that is shaped in the size of an oval that has a white glaze or frosting on top and has green, purple and yellow sugar crystals on top, as well. The reason they are yellow, purple and green is for the colors that represent Mardi Gras season. King Cake is extremely famous for its variety of filling flavors such as: chocolate, lemon, blueberry, strawberry, etc. If you can name it there is a filling for it when it comes to King Cake. King Cake is one way to top of you’re Mardi Gras experience.

Written By: STORMTROPPER2323

Originally Published: December 12th, 2020 || Last Updated: February 14th, 2022

A part of Doc Studio’s History of the New Orleans Landscape Collection


  1. New Orleans Item (New Orleans, Louisiana), January 5, 1921: 4. NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current.
  2. “Advertisement.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), January 6, 1921: 9. NewsBank: Access World News – Historical and Current.
  3. Stanonis, Anthony J., and Rachel Wallace. “Tasting New Orleans: How the Mardi Gras King Cake Came to Represent the Crescent City.” Southern Cultures 24, no. 4 (2018): 6-23. Accessed November 14, 2020. doi:10.2307/26554510. 
  4. “Advertisement.” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), February 6, 1921: 30
  5. Costantino, D.J. “Mardi Gras King Cake,” January 23, 2020.

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