A Symbol of One Woman’s Ingenuity

The original Cross Bakery run by Mary Margaret Cross.

In a city whose tastes and temperament derived from French and Spanish settlers, one might be surprised to find a local heroine of distinctly English ancestry. Nevertheless, Mary Margaret Cross became such a figure in Port Orleans in the mid 1800s.

Mimi Cross, as she came to be known, retired as a nurse from a London hospital and arrived in the Port with her life savings in hand. She had every intention of enjoying the area’s warm weather and genuine hospitality. Yet all her plans would change when she witnessed a streetful of orphans begging bread from dockside grocers and pennies from wealthy European travelers.

Nurse Cross realized that she would never be able to enjoy the congeniality of her new surroundings as long as there were hungry children around. So she did what no one else had thought to do and adopted a full brood of orphans. With her new family of twelve, Nurse Cross moved into a townhouse she bought on Bourbon Street and began raising her family. She knew her finances would soon dwindle attempting to feed her rather large family, so she began baking cakes, breads, pastries, and other tasty items and sold them from the front room of her house which she had converted to a store.

She developed a successful operation by teaching her children the benefits of a good day’s work. While she assigned each child a particular job, she made sure they only worked a few hours throughout the day. The older ones would do all the mixing and kneading while the younger ones were responsible for laying the small bits of dough on large sheets and covering the tops with sweet glazes.

Mary Margaret Cross at work
with her family of orphans.

The success of one particular little treat brought her many regular customers. The small frosted buns which soon became a staple at every breakfast table in the neighborhood were affectionately called “hot cross buns.” As her baked goods grew in popularity, Nurse Cross expanded her operation. She opened another shop in a different neighborhood, but it too was soon overwhelmed with orders. So she continued expanding. It was soon accepted that no Port Orleans neighborhood was suitable to live in if it did not contain a Cross Bakery nearby.

Although she could not personally care for every orphan in the city, she did establish a foundation that made sure that orphaned children in Port Orleans would always be well-housed and well-fed.

One of the lucky twelve, a feisty French lad named Jacques Beignet, opened his own shop in Port Orleans at the tender age of eighteen and soon became famous for a tasty puffed pastry treat he called “beignets.” Although the Cross Bakery is only a memory of yesterday in Port Orleans’ history, beignets can still be had at Jacques Beignet’s Bakery located in the Sassagoula Floatworks & Food Factory.

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