Why is there a bean in the galette des rois?

The holiday meals are far from over. After Christmas and New Year, it’s time for Epiphany. To prepare to taste the galette des rois in the purest tradition, we tell you the story of the bean.

The galette des rois, this puff pastry garnished with apple compote or homemade frangipane conquers hearts at the start of each year. On January 6, when dessert comes at lunch or dinner time, the youngest in the family, impatient, slips under the table and blindly chooses who will get each share. A way to guarantee a fair choice, and let chance determine who will get the bean and become the king or queen of the table. When cutting, you can sometimes see the bean. In this case, some intentionally give the share to the youngest, still hidden under the table. A little attention to amaze the little ones, while others intend to get the bean, without any sleight of hand. No matter the situation, the bean always ends up designating the lucky one. What if we learned more about the history of this bean, originally edible, which celebrated the improbable meeting of masters and servants at the same table.

The bean, a symbol

If Epiphany religiously celebrates the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, historically, the origin is quite different. The latter dates back to Roman celebrations, at the time of the “Saturnalia”, a period dedicated to Saturn, god of time. A celebration which took place as the winter solstice approached, the shortest day of the year, before the arrival of sunny days. What better element than a bean, the first vegetable to grow this season to symbolize this transition from winter to spring? Whether the current year was a leap year or not, the winter solstice was celebrated on December 21, 22 or 23.

The bean, a guarantee of freedom for a servant

On this occasion, a meal was shared between masters and slaves, a rare moment when class roles could be reversed. For good reason, among the Saturnalia celebrations, liberties were granted to servants. Whoever landed on the bean became the “king of the party” and got everything they wanted for that day. A rejoicing for the latter, with a small drawback however for his savings, since the holder of the bean also had to “pay for his round” to the entire table.

The bean, when the “new king” drinks and invites his table

To counter this pledge, onerous for a servant, certain winners swallowed the bean. A cheating technique that transformed this legume into a small piece of ceramic. So, no one could counter this custom anymore.

Now you know everything, share the story of this little bean as well as the cake, from January 6.

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