In Provence, the ‘thirteen desserts’ are intimately associated with the Christmas festivities. But what are they, exactly? They are thirteen different desserts (dried fruits, candies, sweets and so on), which represent Christ and his twelve apostles at the Last Supper. They normally start to be eaten following midnight mass, and should remain on the table for three days (it’s tradition!). It’s tricky, however, to set out a full list of the desserts, since those served often change as soon as you move from one region to the next...
These dried fruits and nuts are an absolutely essential part of the tradition and symbolise the religious orders whose names they bear. Walnuts represent the Augustines, dried figs symbolise the Franciscan order, and raisins and almonds are a reference to the Dominicans and Carmelites, respectively.
There’s normally a selection of three or four different fruits, which may change depending on the location but can include mandarins (or oranges), grapes, dates (which symbolise Christ), pears and Santa Claus melon. Known as verdau, the latter is a variety of dark green melon stored in straw until the celebration.
In Provence, people enjoy white nougat made with hazelnuts, pistachios or pine nuts, but also black nougat (made with caramelised honey) and pink nougat. Sometimes calissons, an Aix-en-Provence delicacy made from almond paste, or candied fruits are added.
A popular cake, locally known as pompe à huile (literally ‘oil pump’, a sweet brioche), is made with olive oil, eggs and flour. But beware! It must not be cut with a knife – that would bring bad luck. Instead, it should be torn by hand like bread. Got it? Connoisseurs often add orange flower water to the recipe. Finally, some families prepare oreillettes – thin pastries which are fried and sprinkled with icing sugar. A real treat! So there you go, I hope all that’s given you an appetite. Now you just have to wait for Christmas!