13 Provençal Desserts

As we're learning, in Provence at Christmas the big event actually comes on Christmas Eve more than on Christmas Day itself. A big part of the tradition on the 24th is to have a celebratory meal called Le Gros Souper (basically, "the big dinner"), prior to attending midnight mass at the village church.

The dinner table is set with 3 table cloths and 3 candles and a meal of various traditional vegetable and fish dishes is served followed by cheeses (everyone should really try French and Italian cheeses, which are incredible). The high point of the evening however, comes at the end of the meal when the table is re-laid and out comes dessert. There are 13 different desserts, to reflect the number seated around the table at the Last Supper.

According to tradition, the first 4 desserts represent the four orders of friars (monks): Raisins for Dominicans, dried figs for Franciscans, almonds for Carmelites and hazelnuts for Augustinians. That stuff is really, really good.

Next come the walnuts and one or more types of dried fruit, usually dates or prunes. Seasonal fruits provide another 3 of the 13 dessert items usually including apples and pears and either melon, grapes, mandarins or oranges.

Nougat will always be part of the list. the final dessert will be the Pompe de Noel a light-textured cake made from a yeast and egg dough, sweetened with sugar, flavored with grated orange and lemon zest and sprinkled with orange flower water.

One of our friends, Nathalie, brought us a small box of these 13 desserts two days ago. Dave devoured them in about an twenty minutes. He said his favorite was the figs stuffed with 'pate d'amande' (a pink paste made with ground up almonds and sugar). I'll see if I can find some better pictures of the desserts, because it really is a cool thing, the way it all gets laid out, and the significance of the tradition itself. You can read a better description of the whole thing HERE.

The thirteen provençal desserts may not beat pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top, but it sure beats the heck out of fruitcake!

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